No Faf-ing about for Du Plessis

By Ant Sims 22 January 2013

He’s gone from the guy who was kind of the fringes of the national team to saving a Test match and captaining the Proteas. Faf du Plessis doesn’t waste time, and now he has another chance to prove his credentials - needing  to lead his side to a win to avoid an embarrassing series loss against New Zealand. By ANT SIMS.

Faf du Plessis has gone from being on the fringes of the national side to becoming a household name in South African cricket in a very short period of time. He’s gone from being the guy who everybody thought was only suited to the shorter format of the game, to the man who saved a Test match. From being kind of okay to being somebody South Africa cannot do without.

And he now faces yet another challenge: leading a rather inexperienced Proteas side to a win over New Zealand so that the hosts can salvage something from the three-match series.

With AB de Villiers out of the next two matches due to suspension as a result of a slow over rate in the first match, and official vice-captain Hashim Amla having asked not to be considered for the role so as to focus on his batting, Du Plessis has been handed the reins.

It was, of course, not too long ago that Du Plessis took charge of the T20 side – a completely inexperienced outfit – and led them to a 2-1 series win against the Black Caps. He performed his task with finesse most of the time, and Du Plessis can now also draw upon some of the veterans of the squad to help him in the one-day format.

“It was a nice surprise to be given the captaincy and luckily I captained in the T20s not too long ago. We do have some experienced players to bounce ideas off, which is something I didn’t have in the T20s. Guys like Graeme (Smith) and Hashim (Amla) will definitely help me,” Du Plessis said.

Another interesting element of the upcoming match is to see just how deep South Africa’s batting line-up really does go. While David Miller has been drafted into the side, it’s likely that Farhaan Behardien will fill in for the suspended skipper.

The Titans batsman had a reasonably good stint in the South African one-day domestic competition, where he was the sixth highest run scorer, notching up 345 runs in 11 matches. Although his average was a paltry 34.50 and his strike rate a touch above 80, he looked in good touch.

Behardien’s showing on the international stage hasn’t quite been what was expected of him, but he has another chance to prove himself.

While Miller is a sensational talent and quite possibly one of the best finishers in the game at the moment, South Africa needs a more solid option to replace De Villiers. With the Champions Trophy just a few months away, South Africa has just seven one-day matches left to find a potent cocktail which could potentially get the choking monkey off its back.

Du Plessis knows that there is no replacing De Villiers, but he is looking forward to seeing what the rest of the squad has to offer.

“We cannot replace AB; he is definitely one of the world’s best players, but this does give us a chance to gauge the batting depth a little. It does give us the opportunity to look at our options going to the Champions Trophy,” Du Plessis said.

The word “pressure” and South Africa don’t really go together, though. When pressure is involved, at least in the shortest format of the game, the Proteas have got the tendency to implode. In the Test arena, they have perfected the art of absorbing pressure and transferring it onto the opposition, and that skill has seen them escape some close calls by the skin of their teeth.

They’re now under pressure again after losing a match in which they seemed slack, something which Du Plessis admits.

Nothing but a win will do on Tuesday, and while the pressure and the heat will be on in more ways than one, the rookie skipper reckons it’s a good situation to be in.

“It’s a nice pressure. It will suit us, because we were maybe a little relaxed in the first game and now we know we have to play to our full potential because New Zealand is a dangerous one-day side,”  Du Plessis said.

The last time the Proteas played in Kimberley, they lost there for the first time ever; and despite a rather gutsy 96 from skipper De Villiers, South Africa had no answer for Sri Lanka, who chased down 300 with ease.

Despite the batting order needing to find some spark, the Proteas will also have to be more disciplined in their bowling. They conceded a massive amount of extras, with 15 wides being one of the main culprits.

Time to come together and gel is non-existent, and while a one-day series against New Zealand almost seems irrelevant, the team is under the microscope. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Faf du Plessis drives a ball from Australia’s Mitchell Johnson during the first day’s play of their third cricket test match at the WACA in Perth November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer



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