Proteas captain Faf du Plessis leads the way during a team-building walk up Table Mountain this week. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
Cheshire. With its close proximity to both Manchester clubs and Liverpool FC, it is the preferred suburb for some of the most high-profile English footballers.

Plattekloof. South Africa’s very own Cheshire. Home to some of the most recognisable sports people in Mzansi. Springbok legend Bryan Habana and Proteas cricketer JP Duminy are just some of the personalities who can be seen doing their shopping at the local grocer.

Taking into account Faf du Plessis and Duminy’s “bromance”, it was natural to assume the Proteas captain would also seek a property in the northern suburbs of Cape Town when he moved south from the nation’s capital.

“Not a chance mate, you know me better than that!”

I do know Du Plessis better than that. And I should have known better.

Although a dedicated family man now with two-year-old daughter Ameli and wife Imari the centre of his world, Du Plessis has always been a man of his own will. Du Plessis doesn’t follow trends, he sets them.

It is not any national captain that will feature in a leopard skin top in a music video. Or bring his pet dog Giorgio along to his first official press conference.

But that’s Faf. He is always going to do it his way. While some might call that smugness, I see it as swag. It is the reason why the Aussies have a love-hate relationship with him.

It as if they wished he was one of their own. Someone that pushes the line to very limit, but keeps on smiling while he does it. Maybe even chewing a bit of gum while he’s at it.

For a long time Du Plessis was an ordinary cricketer. Possibly one living in the shadow of his erstwhile school buddy AB de Villiers. Considering De Villiers’ mercurial talents that was an awfully big shadow.

He was forced to take the road less-travelled. To Lancashire and back in fact. Knowing his poignant sense of occasion, the moment will not be lost on him when he returns as captain of the Proteas in the World Cup for the final round-robin match against Australia at his old stomping ground Old Trafford.

He will seek out groundsman Matt Merchant  not only for little pointers for we know how much Du Plessis loves a pitch  but to touch base. There will also be smiles with the ‘Roses staff that still remember when he had those horrible blond tints.

He arrived in Manchester a boy that could field and bowl some tidy leg-spinners. He left a man with some refined cooking skills for good measure.

Faf du Plessis and his team-mates on Table Mountain. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Du Plessis, and everyone else, will hope that the clash against the Aussies is not a “must-win” to progress to the knockout stages. Or that the opposition need to beat the Proteas to stay alive in the tournament themselves. The irony of 20 years ago would all just be too much for everyone to bear.

But it’s not a challenge that Du Plessis would shy away from. The ultimate goal, of course, is to raise the trophy at Lord’s on what is hopefully a balmy summer’s day in St John’s Wood on July 14, but the satisfaction of sending the arch-enemy home would only add to his pantomime villain image Down Under.

There is something about the Baggy Greens  whether in Test whites or canary yellow  that transforms Du Plessis into his best self. Think Adelaide 2012 and 2016. Harare 2014. Hobart 2018.

Publically he has often stated: “I was part of the previous generations with (Graeme) Smith and (Jacques) Kallis and I remember like it was yesterday when they spoke about the pain and embarrassment of always losing in Australia.

“Since that day it has been something that has motivated me and obviously being the villain over there ... I love playing there and it does bring the best out of me. When there is a fight on, that brings the best out in my character.”

Leadership has also brought out the best in Du Plessis. Not only has his own game improved immeasurably, but he possesses that much sought-after ability to get the best out of others. Making them believe they are invincible.

And that only comes from caring for the individual. The kiss on Kagiso Rabada’s forehead whenever his talisman uproots another off-stump. The passionate embrace of Imran Tahir after the leg-spinner has completed his celebration lap. That’s not just for the cameras.

Don’t get me wrong, he is acutely aware of the moral importance of his once-divided country watching an Afrikaans Boys High Alumnus placing a fat smooch on his Black African fast bowler. Likewise the little bit of nation-building that occurs after every hug with the Pakistan-born Tahir.

This appreciation for cultures different to his own stems to a large degree from his numerous seasons spent in the yellow camp of Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.

Here he is the “quota” player. One of a host of quality internationals only afforded four places in the starting XI. Often Du Plessis does not make the cut due to the “balance of the team”, only to be called back for the most crucial of contests.

It has provided him with insight to how “Player X” or “Player Y” feels when they are dropped from the Proteas. The clear and concise messages they require to work their way back into the starting XI.

Equally, being part of a multi-national squad with supreme leaders like former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming and the inimitable MS Dhoni at the helm was the perfect graduation school for Du Plessis. He may not have liked school - “I was often the one copying AB’s homework” - but he was now an avid pupil learning how to find the spark inside each and every player regardless of nationality, race or religion.

Du Plessis’ passion for the Proteas is also what sets him apart. Every Kolpak defector hurts him personally. He understands some of the decisions to seek greater security - he was after all a Kolpak himself at Lancashire - but there are others that he simply doesn’t get. Even when at Old Trafford it was never his desire to play for England, despite there being talk in the media at the time that he could possibly have gone that route. He always wanted to just get better as a cricketer. To improve his game so that he could ultimately wear the Protea on his chest.

This is the message that he conveys in the dressing-room. Although the advent of the T20 freelancer may also well be upon us, in addition to Kolpak possibilities, he stresses that nothing compares to playing international cricket on a stage as grand as the World Cup. That opportunity is now on the doorstep of Du Plessis and his men.

South Africa are not one of the favourites  that poisoned chalice belongs to hosts England  but they do carry the expectations of 56 million people back home desperate to see the World Cup “curse” of 1999 finally being lifted.

A finer leader they could not have wished for.

For like that famed old English playwright William Shakespeare once said: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

@shockerhess


Saturday Star

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