JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 25, Faf du Plessis during the Proteas press conference held at the Inter Continental Hotel on June 25, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

Durban – Faf du Plessis is having the time of his life. Things are going so serenely that the stand-in Proteas T20 captain doesn’t even need the services of a third man in matches.

“Ja, if it hadn’t been for that little slip-up, it would have been a perfect day,” he chuckled. “I was at point, and when the ball went down there, I just waved that it was third man’s ball, but there was no one there,” he added sheepishly.

In all seriousness, the Proteas didn’t even need to get out of third gear against a limp display by the embattled Black Caps on a glorious Durban Friday night.

After months of soggy days, Kingsmead put on its best frock, but the Kiwis forgot to turn up to the party.

“We don’t want to make any excuses, because the Proteas were really good today,” Brendon McCullum, the latest New Zealand skipper, explained.

“We will come back in East London and try to put on a better show. There were a few ordinary strokes, but I certainly couldn’t fault the blokes’ passion out there.”

They say passion without direction is a dangerous combination, and the Kiwis batted as if the end of the world was nigh, as they refused to rein in the wild hacks and hopeful heaves, and subsequently crumbled to just 86 on a somewhat two-paced pitch.

Rory Kleinveldt nipped three wickets, while Robin Peterson helped himself to the most economical figures in T20 cricket for the Proteas, with two for eight in four overs.

But the damage was done up front, as Ryan McLaren, Dale Steyn and Chris Morris all chipped in to blast out an over-eager New Zealand top-order.

In reply, the runs rattled along easily for Du Plessis, who ended on 38 not out. He knows there will be tougher days at the office.

“It’s been a good week, and it is actually so easy to go out there with the guys, because it is a young team and everyone is motivated,” Du Plessis said.

“We are trying to play a positive brand of cricket, and there was some great energy out there in the field. We were surprised they kept coming at us like that, but I’m sure at some stage their top-order will fire.”

Martin Guptill, laid low by a stomach bug, will return to add considerable class to the visitors’ line-up, and it is unlikely McCullum and co will swing with reckless abandon again.

For the Proteas, their biggest concern is the steady accumulation of niggles to their pacemen. Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morris are now both out of the series, and Morne Morkel’s festive fun has been cut short as a result.

Tonight’s wicket in East London will more than likely suit the slower men, and Du Plessis may yet call on Aaron Phangiso and Justin Ontong to do a job with the ball. With the Kiwis’ eagerness to get bat on ball, the lack of pace may be just the tonic.

The new-look Proteas, who will be without the rested Steyn, as well as a host of other established stars, have an opportunity to finish another trying year in the shortest format with a flourish of sorts. The selectors have seen the light, and finally picked on form and not on reputation, and they are hoping the new brigade steps up and thrills at Buffalo Park tonight.

After the doldrums in Durban, McCullum grimaced through questions about his side’s performance against the Proteas this summer.

“That’s the nature of T20 cricket, mate. Sometimes you have a bad day and things don’t come off. We will learn from this and bounce back in East London.”

For the sake of the series, everyone will hope that McCullum is right about that much at least.

If his unpredictable side turns up, they may yet force the ice-cool Du Plessis to remember his third man and shift gears from the cruise control that his young team employed in Durban. – Sunday Tribune