Opinion: A Faf for all seasons
JOHANNESBURG – Faf had Adelaide (twice), Faf had the Wanderers. He also had gates – one for a zip, the other for a mint.
Faf also had a helluva – to use the Australian parlance – ‘rig.’ In fact he still has that, often, glistening bod, a sign of his commitment to fitness and given he’s not entirely saying goodbye to international cricket, he’ll have a few more opportunities to show it off.
Faf also had the Proteas captaincy – and to many people’s surprise he was very good at it – for a long while. And in determining his legacy as a Proteas Test player – where he stands in the pantheon if you will – it is an important chapter to consider.
There was a leadership void following Graeme Smith’s retirement in 2014. Hashim Amla was made Test captain and did the job reasonably well. But AB de Villiers also wanted it. Then Amla gave it up in the middle of a series against England, De Villiers did it for two Tests, and was subsequently absent because of a back ailment, and his own confusion over how to manage his Test career. Du Plessis was handed the captaincy. It was supposed to be temporarily – and then Du Plessis went and led the Proteas to a Test series victory in Australia in 2016.
It came without De Villiers, and after losing Dale Steyn on the first day of the series in Perth. Then there was footage of Du Plessis sucking on mints in Hobart, where South Africa won the series, and in response to an Australian manufactured furore, Du Plessis played one of the great ‘F… you’ innings’ of all time. Temporary was tossed, Faf was made captain permanently.
He found that he enjoyed the captaincy and crucially, the players enjoyed having him as captain.
He was always an honest skipper, he loved the job and everything that came with it, be it the extra media responsibilities or sharing his thoughts on the sport – which were always considered. He also accepted the challenge of leading a side in transition – from the era that ended with Smith and Kallis retiring in 2013/2014 to the retirements of De Villiers, Amla, Steyn and Morkel in 2018/19.
There were great successes – series victories home and away against Australia, the former in 2018, making him the only South African captain to win on home soil against the Australians in the post-isolation era.
Thank you for your service in the Test arena @faf1307— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) February 17, 2021
"He will be remembered as one of the country’s best captains with an impressive record of 10 centuries, 21 half-centuries and 4 163 runs at an average of 40.02." 🗣
🔗 Read the full statement here https://t.co/OBoai8vHZu pic.twitter.com/Vf6CiFragr
There were lows – England in 2017, Sri Lanka in 2019, India that same year and England last summer. The latter period of his time as captain, occurred amidst the administrative implosion at Cricket SA, a period in which Du Plessis bore more responsibility than a captain should.
His game suffered as did his leadership. He made just four fifties and one century in his last 13 Tests – nine of those as captain.
Ten of the 15 losses Du Plessis suffered as captain came in his last 13 Tests in that position. It was a reflection on how he’d lost touch with the team, but more how Cricket SA had failed to properly manage the transition of the national side following the halcyon summer of 2017/18, in and amongst the organisation’s numerous other administrative deficiencies.
It’s a messy ending on what was a fine Test career – one in which he maximised his capabilities as a batsman, who didn’t have the same natural talent as an Amla, De Villiers or Gibbs.
His time as captain saw some stratospheric highs and some deeply depressing lows. It sort of balanced out, but his legacy as one of the country’s best Test match players is secured.