JOHANNESBURG – Faf du Plessis’ successful transition into a Test leader has been on the back of him playing every situation with as straight a bat as the one he offers when he is at the crease.
So, when he had to front up to the media instead of the Kiwi bowling line-up on day five of the final Test in miserable Hamilton, Du Plessis maintained that unerring blade.
“It’s a real fair assessment to say we’ve been saved by rain.”
In every way, the elements saved the tourists from what looked very likely to be a loss – possibly by an innings, and one which would have meant the series was shared, and not won.
“Everyone would say New Zealand can count themselves very unlucky. The rain has come at a terrible time for them,” Du Plessis continued.
“They dominated us in this match and deserved to have a crack at us today.”
That Du Plessis held up his hands as emphatically as he did would suggest that he and his team had already sat and looked within, and conceded to each other that they had been found wanting. That they must endeavour to be a lot better down the road, because they won’t always be saved by cricket’s joker card.
Du Plessis, no stranger to final day missions of attrition, had already prepared to block the whole day – as he once did in Adelaide, to announce himself and his character to the world. But, in a funny way, there would have been little to no expectation to do so back then, and all the pressure for him to repeat the deed on Tuesday.
And, what’s more, he would have been doing it with half a batting card, after a top-order that needs urgent attention and, indeed, regeneration had faltered again.
“You can’t expect Quinny to do exactly the same”, Du Plessis conceded.
The art of dead-batting 400 balls is not in Quinton de Kock’s freakish nature, and long may that sense of adventure stay with him. It is the essence of what makes him one of the most feared willow-wielders in the game, across formats.
As Du Plessis added, “De Kock’s game is to pressure on the opposition by scoring at a rate that is uncomfortably brisk for bowlers. If New Zealand had got a wicket early doors, it would have been tough for us to get through that. This series has been a series of what-ifs. You feel like, even after this match, there could have been more, because the teams are playing some competitive cricket and, for most of the series, it’s been 50/50,” Du Plessis explained of the scrap that they had been a part of.
These things are easier to live with if you end on the right side, and Du Plessis was magnanimous enough to admit that his side got away with it.
“We didn’t play great cricket, but we still won. Although I am disappointed in this Test, it doesn’t take away the unbelievable achievements we’ve had this season,” he said as a reminder.
South Africa plunged to unusual depths on day four in Hamilton, losing five wickets in a horror session to leave themselves exposed. And yet,
before that, they have scaled some impressive peaks, and done so with new navigators at the helm. Amidst the late gloom, there has been significant amounts of bloom for the Proteas.
Du Plessis himself has had an unbelievable, maiden summer as skipper.
It started with scuffles at airports, as the cricket world went bonkers over a few sweets that turned unsavoury, and ended with three Test series on the bounce, and an appreciation of winning even when you didn’t fully deserve to.
In Hamilton, the writing was on the wall – and it was black and bleak.
South Africa surely dodged a bullet, but they are certainly not the first team to do so. New Zealand were left lamenting time, and weather, and anything else they could grasp, but the history books will simply state that New Zealand hosted South Africa in March 2017, and the score-line after three Test battles was 0-1. And that, essentially, is the most vital stat of the entire tour to New Zealand.