Francois du Plessis: When the going gets tough, the tough gets going

What does it take to declare a player as the next big thing in a team? Is it consistent form? Or, is his impeccability defined by various parameters? It has been a case of both and a lot more, with Francois Du Plessis. Sportwalk brings to you, insights of Du Plessis being the next big thing in the South African team.

The South Africans toured the Australia from November 2nd to December 3rd for their Test series. The Proteas were then ranked No.1 in tests and the tour was very much important to retain their dominance in Test Cricket.

It was the second test of the South African tour of Australia at the Adelaide Oval after the first test had been drawn. Not everything went well for the South Africans. JP Duminyat his top-notch form withdrew after a severe heel injury in the first test. The Duminy slot opened doors for debutant, Francois Du Plessis.

With Michael Clarke making a double century, Australia posed a total of 550 in their first innings. The Proteas fought hard only to score 388 in their first innings. Graeme Smith made 122 runs while debutant Du Plessis scored 78 off 205 deliveries.

With a lead of 162 and a good start to their second innings on day 4, Aussies made it more difficult for the visitors. The South African bowlers fought hard to scalp quick wickets from the line-up. The Proteas were given a hefty target of 430 runs as Aussies declared at 267/8.

The series were still levelled and South Africans were staring to a defeat when their top order collapsed in less than 20 overs. Smith went for a Duck, Peterson collapsed for a 24 off 82, Amla fell victim to Lyon for 17 and Jacques Rudolph gave up at 3.

Not to forget, it was Du Plessis’s debut in his test career. He survived a catch and two reviews, both being leg before wicket from Michael Clarke at 33 and 37.The deadly ball missed the outside edge by a few millimeters, bounced over his head making him swirl with fatigue and often missed the stumps by just glancing over the bails. Du Plessis had to never give up. At the non-striker’s end was his childhood friend, AB De Villiers.

AB de Villiers and Du Plessis were buddies since their primary schooling. They represented the same school team and were never apart. Du Plessis’ father, Morne Du Plessis is a former Rugby union player of great fame. His father is regarded as one of the most successful captains of Springboks, winning 13 of 15 matches during 1975-1980.

Du Plessis always had the passion of playing for his country and that never let him lose the spirit of playing with passion. Being equally skilled in Rugby and Cricket, Du Plessis chose cricket after injuring his wrist in his final year of schooling while playing Rugby.

Du Plessis’s parents persuaded him to do higher studies. And that’s exactly where everything started falling into place. AB De Villiers registered for the course, Sports Science and Du Plessis followed his footsteps.Realizing that completing the course was a waste of time, they packed their bags, dropped out of college in three months to play full time cricket.

The childhood duo held together fighting the pace attack of Australia in the scorching sun.Du Plessis often asked De Villiers to talk and motivate him for every 2 or 3 deliveries. In course of their 66 over partnership, the Duo exchanged emotions and reviewed their past.AB de Villiers never gave up either. He scored a 33 off 220 deliveries! One will be surprised to know that AB’s innings didn’t include a boundary.

An injured Jacques Kallis appeared to the scene when AB de Villiers was bowled over by Peter Siddle. Kallis constructed a partnership of 99 with Du Plessis before departing for a 149 ball 46.In the last over before tea, Du Plessis edged a Hilfenhaus delivery to Mathew Wade who couldn’t grasp the ball. The end was just near.

While it took relatively lesser time for AB to gain reputation, Du Plessis had to overtake many challenges to cook his soup in the National team.Du Plessis struggled level by level, outdoing every hurdle with perseverance and patience. He turned down the Kolpak deal when he was 21, only for his dream to play for his country.

A Kolpak deal is all about getting an agreement signed so as to pursue County Cricket. If a player signs the agreement, he will have to leave his country and play for England.

There are a set of rules for which a player will have to qualify for the Kolpak deal and Du Plessis cleared them all. He was threatened by the Nottinghamshire for signing up the deal. They offered him a pay worth 8-10 times his present. Du Plessis simply turned down the offer.

The situation worsened for Du Plessis as well. He wasn’t in any position getting into the National Squad and was still making his mark. What he needed some good experience at county cricket. In 2008, Lancashire gave him a contract so that Du Plessis could play 6 months County and 6 months Domestic every year.

Steve Smith, Australia, Faf du plessis, South Africa, Tour of Australia, Cricket, Sportwalk
© Photograph from Getty Images

Du Plessis was described to be the most flexible and agile sportsman in the team. His exit from the County Cricket followed after the Kolpak rules changed in 2010. The new amendment stated that a foreign player shall be issued a work permit only if he has played certain number of Tests and ODIs in the last 3 years, which Du Plessis never had.

The Domestic league 2010-2011 provided Du Plessis an opportunity to represent the National squad. He led his team (Nashua Titans), averaged a 124 in batting and was immediately called to the National Squad. Nashua Titans were the title winners for the MTN40 2010-2011 season. His successful campaign added him to the 15 member squad of WC 2011 as he was chosen ahead of all-rounder Albie Morkel.

It was Tea as the South African dressing room was filled completely with nervousness. All of their hopes were on the debutant. Du Plessis was drenched in sweat, his body suffered cramps and he was going restless after toiling on the soil for 6 hours. He asked the physio for some pain killers to survive the final session. AB de Villiers helped him with some motivation at the tea break.

“Keep fighting because you don’t understand how much this means for the people back home. If you get through this, your career will be changed”

The Australian bowlers cramped to scalp few more wicket as nothing more could collapse the South African wall.

Overall, it was a Du Plessis show. He picked the right deliveries for boundaries and spent ages in his nineties. His milestone, century on debut came at the 310th delivery. Du Plessis was rewarded the man of the Match for scoring 188 runs on his debut. The draw seemed like a victory to the Proteas.

Du Plessis’s brilliant innings showcased a matured debutant battling against the sledging Australia at Adelaide Oval.This was what Du Plessis had to say at the press conference on his Marathon Knock.

“Mentally I was in such a place where everything inside me didn’t want to give it away. I said to the guys coming in, if they want to bowl short to you, just take it. If they hit you in the neck or the face, it doesn’t matter. We should just make it really tough for them to get us out.”

Post the marathon knock, Du Plessis jumped his order to no.3 for his matured performance. He was later crowned T20 captain after De Villiers stepped down. He now averages 52 in Tests, 38 in ODIs and 39 in T20Is. With a dismal T20 World Cup past him, du Plessis seems back to his devastating best with two stellar knocks in the Indian Premier League for his new franchise already.

Faf du plessis, South Africa, Tour of Australia, Cricket, Sportwalk
© Photograph from Getty Images.

Francois Du Plessis has stamped his authority in the famed Proteas line-up in the short period of time that he has played. While South Africa has gained a prolific batsman who can adapt to any role with perfection, the gentlemen’s game has probably found a legend in the making.

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