South Africa, Sport

Cricket: In defence of Faf du Plessis, the snail that sails across sandpaper

Cricket: In defence of Faf du Plessis, the snail that sails across sandpaper

Since Faf du Plessis made his debut in Test cricket in 2012, no other player in Test cricket who has scored 1,500 or more runs has a slower strike rate than him. But is this really a bad thing? By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

As Faf du Plessis poked, prodded and nudged his way to a century in the first innings against New Zealand, the internet was discussing only one thing: his strike rate. What started off painfully slow eventually ended in a perfectly respectable strike rate of 47.86.

But Du Plessis has a reputation for being a slow-goer. In fact, since he made his Test debut in 2012, he has the slowest strike rate (39.76) of all Test batsmen who have scored more than 1,500 runs. He is the only player within those parameters with a strike rate of below 40.00.

Players with such low strike rates are often called “selfish” and it certainly doesn’t fit into the “modern era” of cricket where the top players have strike rates of over 50.00, but is it really such a bad thing? The short answer is no, the long answer is sometimes. Let’s look at some of these probables.

The one instance where a strike rate rarely matters is in the first innings. In the case against New Zealand, Du Plessis had all the time in the world to put an innings together. The weather was fine, the pitch was fine and while South Africa’s top order had all done a decent job, they needed somebody to go on and get a good score, which is exactly what Du Plessis did. With so much time left in the game, there was no need for him to go wild.

It is also an important role to play. Having a player anchor the batting allows other players to kick on and play their natural game, knowing that there is somebody stable at the other end.

Overall, when looking at his strike rate of the first innings in isolation, Du Plessis’ rate sits at 44.35. This is a long way off from the player with the best strike rate in the first innings – Brendon McCullum, who has a rate of 92.83 for the period since Du Plessis made his debut – but it’s hardly a disaster.

The South African batsmen with a higher strike rate than Du Plessis in the first innings (who have played 10 or more Tests in the time period) are Hashim Amla (54.08), AB de Villiers (55.93) and Dean Elgar (50.03). When considering all the figures for the time period and using only recognised batsmen who have played five or more Tests in the time period, these are the results:

The second innings is often a bit more precarious. By now, the match is drifting somewhere and the batting team’s response is very much dictated by the situation. Some players might go into defence mode more than others. But even when taking these numbers in isolation, Du Plessis’ strike rate is comparable to that of his teammates.

In the second innings, Du Plessis’ strike rate is 41.46. Hashim Amla (42.46), AB de Villiers (56.10) and Alviro Petersen (55.89) are above him in the second innings strike rate stakes. Dean Elgar (39.13) and JP Duminy (35.37) are far slower (for players who have played 10 or more Tests). Again, when using the criteria for players with five or more Tests during this time period and considering only recognised batsmen, these are the results:

Bavuma and De Kock played four and three Tests batting in the second innings are thus excluded from the data.

In the third innings, du Plessis’ strike rate is 42.54 in eight Tests. This is the lowest of any South Africa’s recognised batsmen who have played five or more Tests in this period. Interestingly, while Du Plessis’ strike rate for the fourth innings is the lowest of all (31.64), it is not the lowest of all South African batsmen for the fourth innings. Of the players with five or more Tests in this time period, Duminy (30.45), Amla (30.46) and even De Villiers (30.64) all have a lower strike rate than Du Plessis for the fourth innings.

But these are just numbers and simply taking innings strike rates in isolation doesn’t tell the whole story. It does reveal that Du Plessis very much plays the role of an anchor in the batting line-up, but we cannot ignore the match situation in the greater context of things. For that, we need another analysis and that’s where Du Plessis’ approach becomes notable.

Nobody can accuse Du Plessis of robbing South Africa of a chance to win in recent months with his strike rate and, in the 14 victories he has batted in, his strike rate is higher than his overall rate. (45.92 vs 39.76).

When it comes to draws or losses, though, things get interesting. In the eight losses since 2012, Du Plessis has a strike rate of just 29.74. In a number of those situations, much of the match depended on safety and batting time and only De Villiers (1,449) and Amla (1,268) faced more balls than Du Plessis. South Africa were staring defeat in the face for many of those matches and the key part of their players was thus to knuckle down and stick around for as long as they could – runs are irrelevant.

In drawn matches (nine of them) no other South African batsman has faced more balls (1,734) or scored more hundreds (three) than Du Plessis. Amla is second with 1,339 balls faced and two hundreds.

Out of all those Tests, it is perhaps only the infamous draw against India at the Wanderers in 2013 where South Africa could have pushed for a win, but eventually shut up shop in pursuit of a record target. However, in that Test, Du Plessis’ strike rate was 43.36 and he got out through an extraordinary bit of fielding.

The argument in defence of Du Plessis’ often painfully slow approach then is that batting for time is something he does exceptionally well. The slow going has never hurt South Africa and has saved them on more than one occasion to help force a draw.

In matches they have lost, Du Plessis had no other choice but to bat for time. This kind of skill is highly undervalued in the modern game and while Test cricket is evolving, it’s still something that can be useful as long as players prove they can adapt to the situation when required – as Du Plessis has done.

It might not always satisfy the T20 generation, particularly when considering just how explosive Du Plessis himself can be in the white-ball game, but it’s a sensible approach. With players around him like De Kock, De Villiers and even Amla to an extent, there is no need for Du Plessis to get fancy. He can simply potter along and do what he does best: bat, bat, bat and bat some more while the opposition’s bowlers toil. DM

All stats obtained via ESPNCricinfo’s StatsGuru.

Main photo: South Africa’s Faf du Plessis drives the ball during the Australia v South Africa Test Series in Adelaide, Australia, 26 November 2012. EPA/JAMES ELSBY


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.