Du Plessis’s knack for getting out early is a slight concern for largely inexperienced Protea’s side

2013-07-31 00:00

WHEN a team are failing, individual failures become illuminated and so do splutters of individual brilliance. The South African one-day team are failing at present. There’s nothing wrong with that.

They are a new team, with new combinations who all have to adjust to life under a new a coach.

One player who has been with the team and who has had a fair time to adjust is Faf du Plessis. A sterling talent who made an emphatic arrival on the Test cricket stage last year, Du Plessis just hasn’t quite adapted to the one-day format.

He has played 41 games already and he’s never scored a hundred, despite having scored six fifties.

It’s true, of course, that some players go their entire careers without ever scoring a hundred in one-day cricket. Misbah-ul-Haq has not managed a ton in 125 games, despite his 29 fifties.

Angelo Mathews has played over 100 games and has never managed a hundred. Ian Botham played 116 games without ever scoring a ton and England’s Ravi Bopara has scored 10 fifties in 89 games, but never managed to convert either of them.

There is nothing wrong with not making a hundred in one-day cricket, but Du Plessis’s knack for getting out early is a slight concern. He has been out for between one and 19 runs 18 times. He has passed 45 on just seven occasions.

Many would put that down to simply not knowing how to build an innings because of the lack of exposure to first-class cricket.

But having played 85 first-class games, where he averages over 40, and already pushing the 70-run average in Tests, knowing how to build an innings clearly isn’t something that fazes the Titans man.

It’s a peculiar phenomenon that is hard to explain. One possible reason for his struggles could be having to adopt a senior role in the side. With players like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith missing, Du Plessis has been forced to assist AB de Villiers in the captaincy role and be part of the think-tank on field. Despite being the skipper in the school team for which both he and De Villiers played, at international level, Du Plessis doesn’t seem to like the extra responsibility.

He needs the freedom to simply “go out there and express himself”.

In one-day games where both Kallis and Smith have featured, Du Plessis has scored five out of his six fifties. As it stands, South Africa are short on senior figures in the side, especially those who can command a young team with players still struggling to define their roles.

Du Plessis himself has been moved up and down the order, without ever really being allowed to settle into a specific position. Sure, adaptability is part and parcel of being a professional sportsman, but players need a bit of time to adapt. His highest score came batting at number six at a timid strike rate of below 100, but he had plenty of time to play himself in. His second highest score, 66 not out, came batting at six at a strike rate of over 130. Du Plessis certainly is adaptable, he just doesn’t know which position to adapt to yet.

During Gary Kirsten’s tenure, no fewer than 13 players made their debuts as one-day players. Most of those debuts were not forced because of injuries to players, but rather as a result of an ongoing experiment to try and find the “right combination”. It’s something that has hurt the ODI team and it’s now starting to show.

A hallmark of the Test team has been the wealth of experience and talent. It has taken all the pressure off the younger players coming into the side. It’s allowed them to do what they want without any massive expectations. The one-day side are in a transitional phase and the players coming into the team have not been afforded the luxury of an easy transition.

The question then remains. After two years of up-and-down performances, how long does South Africa still persist with somebody like Du Plessis? The short answer is: until the end of the next domestic season.

In the current climate, not only do South Africa lack options to replace him, but tinkering too much with a team who are already shaking on newborn legs would be unfair. Not just unfair to those on debut, but also to those trying to weave something resembling stability.

Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer for the Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her.

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