Cricket on a sticky wicket
That is worrying. As is the fact that the South African captain has played only two four-day matches for his franchise, the Titans, since making his Test debut in 2012.
Much has been made recently of the need for the Proteas players to plough back knowledge into the domestic arena, through availing themselves for their respective franchises or to simply find form and confidence playing in a less pressurised environment than international cricket.
However, Du Plessis shortly after arriving back in the country from India on Friday, wasn’t convinced that the presence of Proteas for their franchises was the panacea for South African cricket. It’s complicated. So is South Africa’s domestic structure at present.
From club level, to semi-professional to franchise level, the different areas have almost acted against one another. It’s a confusing system, which grants first class status to players who are deemed as not fully professional; and because their achievements at the semi-professional level are included in their statistics, runs, wickets and averages are often misleading.
Cricket South Africa has grappled with the issue for years. Committees, think-tanks and inquiries have all been held about the domestic system, but no recommendations have been implemented. Instead the decision to restructure South Africa’s domestic system, and return to a 12-team - and at a later stage 14-team - provincial system was taken ostensibly as a cost cutting measure.
It’s putting Cricket SA on a collision course with its own players, who through their union, the SA Cricketers Association (Saca) are demanding to know how CSA see this new structure as benefiting South African cricket, and more specifically how it will impact on the compensation for its members. While moving from six teams to 12 implies more playing opportunities, by Saca’s calculations up to 70 players could lose contracts, while those who are contracted could earn less than they currently do.
“There are pros and cons both sides,” said the South African captain. “I suppose, the most obvious thing is, the more players playing, then the bigger the pool, and the bigger the pool that the Proteas can be picked from the better. But the small details about what it will look like - it would be wrong for me to comment. If there was a case of players earning less, then there are challenges with that.”
Saca is taking Cricket SA to court over those “challenges”.
“It’s difficult for me to comment on franchise cricket because I’m not involved.”
All Du Plessis sees of franchise cricket is the players who are picked for the Proteas.
“Our system has shown that domestic players can come into the (Proteas) and perform straight away, they’ve done so for the last 10 years. Look at the guys who’ve come in and made debuts, (they’ve been) great - and that means the talent is there.”
Du Plessis, with support from the Proteas’ interim team director, Enoch Nkwe, also explained how it wasn’t as simple as getting the players to turn out for their franchise, when they weren’t playing for the national team.
“But what does that player need right now? It’s also about the international player - they play 10 months of the year on the road, and they also need a break, they need mental freshness, some guys might play (this week), some may not. Some need time away from the game.
"India was a really, really tough tour on the guys mentally. To just say they must all go and play is not the right way to go about it. If a guy doesn’t want to play then what is the point? Then there is no benefit for himself or the younger guys (in the franchise team), because he won’t give them much.”
Nkwe said there would still be benefits, just from having the national players around in pre-season for instance.
“I look back at the Lions last year, we had KG (Rabada) with us for a few days at our training camp, it was huge for the players, someone like Josh Richards (the young Lions opener) gained so much from that. It doesn’t have to be about them playing, they don’t often have a lot of time, so it’s great when they can be involved, those times must be used well, because they can be very valuable,” Nkwe explained.
“How do we as a team, me as captain, Enoch as coach, the director of cricket, Cricket South Africa, how do we keep challenging the status quo and getting better? If we want to be the No.1 Test team in the world and to win World Cups these are things that need to be addressed,” said Du Plessis.
There are no simple solutions, but the motivation behind whatever the domestic structure is and how it should look, is simple. It must benefit the national team, it must make the Proteas better. Changing the system because it's not financially prudent, solves nothing.