Faf can walk tall again

Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Faf du Plessis, in a development parallel with and certainly linked to South Africa’s gradual renaissance in both brands of limited-overs cricket recently, has reason to feel he is up and running as an international performer once more.

It has been a difficult few months, to put it mildly, for Du Plessis, who carved his name in Test folklore on debut only last summer with that monumental 466-minute vigil to save the match against Australia at Adelaide Oval, but has mostly been having a rotten old time of things – notably in the 50-overs format for the Proteas -- subsequently.

But if Mother Cricket is famous, or notorious if you prefer, for making worrisome “corrections” to individuals’ fortunes, the game also has a kinder side in allowing the firmer of spirit to re-emerge both unscathed and wiser from any sudden periods of darkness.

The later part of the one-day international series against Pakistan, when South Africa romped clear to secure a convincing 4-1 outcome, had seen first seeds of revival at the crease by the 29-year-old.

It has been in the immediate follow-up Twenty20 series, however, in which the Titans stalwart has really restored his reputation to more desirable levels.

Du Plessis grabbing both the player of the match and player of the series awards after Friday’s tense triumph in Dubai to clinch a 2-0 outcome fittingly reflected that: the more cynically-minded might be tempted to say those laurels mean considerably more than the “best fielder in the inner circle” cheques he has been banking so regularly during the limited-overs combat in the Emirates.

He led the batting charge in game two, this time after taking first strike, registering top score across the teams of 58 not out at a strike rate of 120, which also meant he totalled 95 runs in the mini-series without being dismissed.

It was a powerful response to the pretty understandable pre-series lobby who suggested the additional demand of captaincy might prove too much for him in his quest to rediscover his batting lustre.

Truth be told, this turned out to be almost certainly Du Plessis’ most authoritative match yet as skipper of the “third” trade by the national side.

Leading from the front by individual performance is a great start, of course, but he was also able to cut a composed and commanding figure at the helm of a gritty triumph, where the Pakistanis had threatened several times to avenge their clueless and spineless loss in the first encounter.

Du Plessis called almost all of his tactical shots astutely, whether it involved field placements to particular batsmen or the timing of bowling changes or introductions to the attack, and just as importantly managed it all with a serenity and maturity that seemed to rub off well on everyone around him.

As if by cherry on top, he took a vital diving catch late in the game to dismiss Shahid Afridi, that walking advertisement (albeit a perplexingly moody one) for X-factor, when the big-hitting all-rounder was just looking ripe for ending the match in “home” favour with a couple of lethal long strikes.

While the deployment of Du Plessis as a senior batting figure in the ODI side warrants further harsh scrutiny during the return series on SA soil, at least he can enter the again two-game T20 portion brimming with personal confidence – hostilities start at the Wanderers on Wednesday -- about what he offers statistically to the cause in that particular landscape.

Remember that his brace of meaty, unbeaten knocks in Dubai came after a career-best 85 against Sri Lanka in Hambantota in mid-year.

All three influential innings have come with the captain in the key No 3 position, and he can also boast now leading his country to successive T20 series wins in Subcontinent conditions – both of them outcomes that suggest the Proteas can be as competitive as anyone at the Bangladesh-staged ICC World Twenty20 next year.

Du Plessis, after 13 T20 internationals (which admittedly makes his presence still a fairly fledgling one) has nudged his batting average ever northward of late, to 39.80, which is luminary stuff in this environment.

For instance, New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, currently the top international runs-scorer in the format with 1,882 after 62 matches, averages 35.50 and the leading South African JP Duminy (ninth on the overall list with 1,084 from 46 caps) has an average of 34.96.

Safe in his T20 shoes, Du Plessis no doubt hopes that this security bodes well for more positive personal vibes just around the bend in the 50-overs game ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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