Faf du Plessis reveals rocky relationship with SA cricket’s Boucher and Smith in upcoming book

Faf du Plessis reveals rocky relationship with SA cricket’s Boucher and Smith in upcoming book

Former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis opens up in his forthcoming autobiography about his strained relationship towards the end of his career with coach Mark Boucher and then director of cricket Graeme Smith.

The 2019 50-over Cricket World Cup, held in England, was one of the worst — in terms of results — for South Africa.

Under the stewardship of captain Faf du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson, the team finished seventh in the 10-team standings with only three victories in their nine matches (one match was rained out).

Despite this, Du Plessis was by far the best performer for the side with the bat, averaging over 60 and scoring the only ton for the Proteas in the tournament.

boucher faf

Faf du Plessis (right) and coach Mark Boucher on 18 December 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images)

Less than six months later — with two T20 World Cups on the horizon — Du Plessis found himself frozen out of the side in all formats under the new leadership of South Africa’s then director of cricket, Graeme Smith, and head coach Mark Boucher.

In a chapter in his upcoming autobiography, “Faf: Through Fire”, Du Plessis discusses his rocky relationship with Boucher that saw him relinquish the captaincy of all three formats despite his desire to continue to lead the national side.

England at home

Boucher was appointed as head coach of the Proteas on 14 December 2019 with a four-match Test series against England approaching, starting on Boxing Day.

Despite Faf not contributing much with the bat, and his red-ball form dwindling, South Africa comfortably beat England by 107 runs.

faf du plessis

Former Proteas cricket captain Faf du Plessis. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

That was when the good times ended between the captain and the newly appointed coach.

South Africa went on to lose the series 3-1.

“During the second Test at Newlands, Mark and I had a chat while our team was batting. He asked me how I saw my future with the national side,” Du Plessis says in his autobiography.

“I reminded him that I had publicly stated before the 2019 World Cup that I saw myself playing in all three formats for at least another year… before reassessing my future.”

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Du Plessis captained all three formats at the time and felt that it was the right time to appoint a new 50-over captain with the next World Cup in the format four years away.

“We discussed the possibility of me taking a one or even two-year break from ODIs. I wasn’t keen because it was still my best format since 2017.

“I also still wanted to captain the red-ball side. Importantly, there are two T20 World Cups scheduled for the near future, and I saw myself playing in both.

“I told Mark I was driven by purpose; I wanted to win a World Cup for South Africa, and I believed, as a leader, I still had a lot to offer the team.

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Faf du Plessis (left) and coach Mark Boucher during a training session at SuperSport Park in Pretoria on 18 December 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

“Mark responded that players should be given the opportunity to map out their own exit strategy. I appreciated the sentiment from him, as he himself hadn’t had the opportunity as a result of a catastrophic eye injury.

“He agreed with me on the ODI strategy, but asked how I would feel about also giving up the T20 captaincy… I said I wasn’t convinced that relinquishing the T20 captaincy was the right decision.”

No relationship

During this time, the two discussed who should succeed Du Plessis as ODI captain. Boucher was in favour of Quinton de Kock, with whom he had built a strong relationship since his appointment.

Du Plessis and Boucher had no such relationship.

“Mark and I hadn’t had so much as a drink together. Our interactions were limited to chats on the training field and during matches,” Du Plessis wrote.

“He had put no effort into our relationship and, although I understood the massive task he had been given to improve a struggling side in a short space of time, our relationship should surely have been part of the turnaround strategy.”

During the third Test match of the series against England, Du Plessis had invited Boucher to dinner in an attempt to build a relationship with the coach.

faf batting

Faf du Plessis of the Proteas during day three of the first Test against Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park on 28 December 2020. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

“I told him that evening I was 100% convinced that I was the right person to lead the team to the T20 World Cup. I thanked Mark for offering to take something off my plate, but I was still motivated to lead the side.

“Mark then said that he and Graeme were seriously considering Quinton as the T20 captain.

“I was taken aback by that: the conversation had swerved away from the notion of making my workload lighter to one that suggested my coach didn’t believe that I should be leading the team anymore.

“That hit a nerve for me…”

“When the effort and commitment I tried to put into our relationship weren’t reciprocated, my insecurities gradually grew.

“I increasingly noticed how close he was with Dean [Elgar] and Quinny… I was glad to see that he had a great relationship with some players. I just wished that he would put the same energy into forming a connection with his captain.

“I was intensely frustrated by the end of the series. What was supposed to be a maiden voyage for Mark and me made me feel like a ship lost at sea.”

ODI snub

On 21 January 2020, a few days before the fourth and final Test match, Smith held a press conference to announce the ODI squad against England.

“When he introduced Quinny as the new captain, he made no mention of the fact that I would be taking a break during the ODIs or that I was still the T20 captain.

“The media was baffled when my name wasn’t read out for the ODI series. After all, I had scored a century in the last ODI I played, and it was public knowledge that I would only consider retirement from international cricket after the T20 World Cup.

“… it was immediately assumed that I had been stripped of the captaincy and dropped.

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Faf du Plessis bats in the T20 International against England at Newlands in Cape Town on 27 November 2020. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

“I was deeply disappointed about the way the press conference had been conducted.

“I had been going out of my way to boost Graeme and Mark in public, but they did nothing to demonstrate their support of me, or to clear up the confusion this latest gaffe had just caused.

“I sent Graeme a message after the team announcement, saying I was disappointed and that I didn’t feel I had their backing.

“I told Graeme I understood that he had a lot on his plate, but I could honestly not say that I sensed the slightest show of support from him. He assured me that I had their backing.”

Du Plessis, however, was not convinced.

“When I didn’t receive Mark’s backing in Cape Town, and Graeme didn’t sense that it would be wise to explain my absence from the ODI series, I couldn’t help wondering whether there was more to their actions than met the eye.

“At the end of the [Test] series, I questioned whether my flame was still burning as brightly as it used to…”

Lack of support

“When I discussed their lack of support with Mark, he assured me that I had their backing and that I shouldn’t worry about what the media was saying.

“Yet, two days before Quinny was announced as the ODI captain, Mark was asked at a press conference whether I would be retiring from Test cricket after the fourth Test. He merely said, ‘I’ve got no clue. He hasn’t said anything. I don’t know’.

“But that’s not accurate. Of course I hadn’t told Mark I intended to retire, because I had made my intention to play for and captain the Test side abundantly clear to him.

“I was not judging him or Graeme, and I knew that they had their own fires to put out. I just wished one of those fires wasn’t mine.

“… within one series, I found myself feeling isolated and dealing with insecurities.

“Mark heaped praise on Quinny in public and, because I wasn’t experiencing the same love from him, I constructed a reality in my head that could not be refuted or substantiated because he was not talking to me.

“[Mark] had an approach to leadership that didn’t include soft skills and relationship interactions.”

After the Test series

Du Plessis and Smith met up for dinner to discuss Du Plessis’ future in the national team after the Test series defeat to England.

“… he also felt that Quinny should be captain in both limited-overs formats,” Du Plessis wrote.

“That’s when I sensed that this was no longer a suggestion, and what I thought didn’t matter. Quinny was going to be the new white-ball captain. End of story.”

Du Plessis didn’t believe De Kock was the right person to lead the national team.

“To him the job would be a burden. He’s an artist. Picasso.

“Allow him to express his creative instincts without having to worry about the captain and all that goes with it off the field.”

“I still believed it was the right decision to retain me as Test and T20 captain. It wasn’t about me, but about the experience the team needed in its leader during the transitional phase.”

“Graeme said he and Mark felt strongly about appointing Quinny in both white-ball formats, and they wanted him to take over immediately until at least the 2023 World Cup.” DM

Daily Maverick will host a webinar on 2 November with Faf du Plessis to discuss Faf: Through Fire in more detail.


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