Harare – FAF du Plessis struck his maiden Test century on debut. It took him 51 more matches to achieve a similar feat in one-day cricket. It is a statistic that rankled with him because South Africa’s new No3 – in all forms of the game – is in the business of “scoring hundreds”.
“It is really important to me that my standards go up a bit. I don’t just want to make the team – I want to make big contributions. I want to score hundreds! Test cricket, one-day cricket – I want to score hundreds! That is what the great players do – Hashim (Amla) and AB (de Villiers) – that’s what they do day in and day out,” Du Plessis told The Sunday Independent.
“It was a great feeling – it was a long time coming – but I’m very happy. To get your first Test hundred and your first ODI hundred against Australia is a great achievement for me.”
The fact that Du Plessis regards his national ODI captain De Villiers as the benchmark should be no surprise. There are few sportsmen in the world who share such a close bond as Du Plessis and De Villiers. They may not be genetically linked but “blood brothers” they surely are as their “bromance” runs so deep that it could easily be the envy of their wives Imari du Plessis and Danielle de Villiers.
The seeds of this relationship were sown when they were the “big boys” for the Northerns and Warmbaths Under-11 teams respectively, before being fostered in the dorms of Affies, cultivated at the Titans and are now in full bloom here at the Proteas.
“We were very close at school, but also very competitive. I was laid back at school, just wanting to play games, and he was a bit of a hoofseun (headboy), wanting to study,” Du Plessis said. “I remember one particular night before our exams when we were in Standard 9. I bothered him the whole night and the next day in the test; I obviously had no clue. So, during the test, I was like, ‘Hey, AB, show me your work there, let me copy a few answers’. He took his suitcase, put it in the middle and turned himself the other way! So obviously I failed that test. Afterwards he said, ‘You wanted to bother me last night, so there was no way I was going to help you’.”
De Villiers was not only more successful at his studies, but also graduated through the playing ranks much quicker than his good mate, leaving Du Plessis to find his own way at the Titans and later at Lancashire on the English County circuit after he debuted for South Africa at 21.
Friendships constructed on less stable foundations would have caved in, especially as those who had watched them develop side-by-side questioned Du Plessis’ slower progress.
“One thing I always remember from AB, if there was any pressure on him, he would perform. When there were a whole lot of people watching, AB was simply a step up from the rest. Like, I would score more runs all season (during the school terms), but come Coke week when the selectors were there, he would score three hundreds in a row. He was just unbelievable like that,” Du Plessis said.
“It was the same thing after school. When he got thrown in at the Titans, he would score a century on debut and then go to SA A and score a 90 off like 50 balls. He was very good at using his opportunities. There were questions that came, more from other people, but I was quite happy to be learning my game at domestic level while AB did his learning in international cricket. As a batter, I wasn’t ready yet. I wanted to be ready when I got the chance. I was very happy with the time it took me to play international cricket. We were very competitive but it was always a friendship competition.”
Seven years passed before Du Plessis could join De Villiers in the exclusive space of the Proteas dressingroom. It was at Newlands in Cape Town – where Du Plessis currently lives – for the third ODI against India in 2011. The coveted Test cap followed the next year in Adelaide, and now 28 years old, he showed that he too had developed the ability to score runs when “there were a lot of people watching” with a century of such fierce determination that it will forever be etched in South African cricket folklore.
The fact that De Villiers was at the crease for the majority of his 11-hour stone-walling session – and last Wednesday here in Harare when they again muzzled the Australians, who Du Plessis once called “a pack of dogs” – is testament that ‘Mother Cricket’ smiles upon this alliance.
The admiration in this relationship is certainly not one-sided, despite Du Plessis saying: “I don’t even try and compete with him; he is simply the best in the word.”
This was visibly evident when an emotional De Villiers spoke about Du Plessis when handing over his Baggy Green in the team huddle at the start of that Adelaide Test, and also after the pair shared a 206-run record-breaking stand in this triangular series.
“He’s been under a lot of pressure from a lot of people in the ODI format, so for him to score that hundred … We’ve always had a lot of belief in him as a player,” De Villiers said earlier this week.
“He’s definitely our rock – he has been for the last while – and he’s playing unbelievable cricket at the moment. He’s just proved a lot of people wrong, although I know that’s not why he plays the game.”
Added Du Plessis: “We’ve played a lot of cricket together and we understand each other’s games really well.
“So at times, when AB thinks he knows what’s going through my mind, he speaks to me about it and then I take it on board. The same with him; I can see when he’s looking to score runs and it’s maybe not needed. We talk to each other and there’s a huge amount of respect for that relationship. It’s great to have batted together in school and then to be playing for your country against Australia.”
There’s a verse in the Affies school song “give courage and confidence for what’s coming”. A World Cup is coming, and if this pair continue in their current vein, they will certainly be filled with confidence that they can finally bring home the trophy.
Faf’s ODI career figures
lMatches 52, runs 1377, highest score 106, average 30.60, 100s 1, 50s 9
lScored 410 runs at an average of 41 in his last 10 ODI innings
lBatted at No3 12 times, scoring 475 runs at an average of 39.58