OPINION: Francois, you will be missed ... no doubt about that
It had already been the most manic day of what was turning out to be the craziest tour I have ever covered in my decade long career. From the moment Hashim Amla was called a “terrorist” in Hobart during the second Test against Australia in 2016 everything seemed to go awry. But that was the tip of the iceberg with the bubbling volcano erupting when Proteas captain Faf du Plessis was shown on camera to be using his saliva gathered from chewing a mint to shine the ball.
Initially everyone thought it to be a big joke. Surely, chewing a mint couldn’t be a crime?
But everyone quickly realised this was a serious matter when Amla led the entire Proteas team out onto the outfield at the MCG and vociferously defended his captain’s actions.
"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done" After taking a full day to digest that @faf1307 will no longer lead the #Proteas, this is my tribute He did not bring the #WorldCup home but he slayed the Aussies countless times and that makes him a #LEGEND in my book! @IOLsport pic.twitter.com/Ge390xkEhh— Zaahier Adams (@ZaahierAdams) February 19, 2020
It was like waving a red flag at the bullocking Australian media and soon Proteas security manager Zunaid Wadee was involved in an altercation with an over enthusiastic Fox News reporter that escalated matters even further.
Du Plessis was adamant that he was not guilty. He professed his innocence in public. And he also vehemently stated it to me privately. He couldn’t understand the allegations that were being levelled at him and he was livid with the ICC’s interpretation of the laws and their blatant double standards. So what was I doing at the Intercontinental Hotel in the wee hours of the morning?
I was waiting on Du Plessis and Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat - facilitated by former Proteas media liaison Lerato Malekutu - to provide me with an exclusive detailed account of what transpired at the hearing earlier in the day.
Du Plessis was meant only to face the glare of the global media the following morning, but that was out of my newspaper’s deadlines. He had agreed to give me 30 minutes at 1am when Lorgat arrived despite the emotionally draining experience of the hearings with the then ICC chief executive Dave Richardson and Match Referee Andy Pycroft because I had always been “fair and accurate” in my reporting. Du Plessis’ words not mine.
Sport stars are often cautious about their relationship with the media and justifiably so. That night though I immediately knew there was a mutual respect for each other’s crafts for he remained patient even when the interview ran longer than the proposed 30 minutes.
It was Du Plessis’ lowest point of his career at that stage. He fought the charges because it was being levelled against his character. That he was being deemed a “cheat” for chewing gum. I was privileged to have a front-row seat to Du Plessis’ highs and lows of his Proteas captaincy career. Just a couple of weeks earlier the celebrations in Perth and Hobart that sealed a series win for SA were massive for it was achieved against all the odds.
But the events leading up to the Adelaide Test had drained Du Plessis emotionally. For this selfish reason alone Du Plessis’ century in the first innings of that pink-ball Test will remain his greatest moment on the cricket field. It was an innings that required the mental strength of the Dalai Lama for he was Australia’s most hated villain that week.
The 2019 World Cup in England and Wales was similarly despairing. He tried for all his might to put up a brave face and to show that famed SA “fighting spirit” but behind closed doors, Du Plessis was bleeding.
He had so desperately wanted to bring the Holy Grail home, but instead he was facing one crisis after the next. It broke his spirit and in hindsight he probably should have walked away along with Amla, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir.
But that’s not Du Plessis’ way. He believed that he still had a duty to his country. That’s his upbringing coming through, even though he has now immersed himself into the trendy southern suburbs culture of Cape Town.
The Proteas are unlikely to see a captain of Du Plessis’ ilk again. He was intelligent, suave and articulate. Equally, Du Plessis was prepared to venture off the treaded path to broaden his players’ horizons and mindsets to help them cope with the inevitable pressure of international cricket.
Francois, you will be missed. Of that there is no doubt.@ZaahierAdams