Faf the magic dragon lives by the sea of success
How big is the Faf factor?
Both sides of the divide might wonder at that given South Africa’s stunning turnaround in their Test series against England.
At Lord’s last Sunday the home side completed a 211-run drubbing‚ with more than a day to spare‚ of a team who were without Faf du Plessis — who was on paternity leave.
Du Plessis returned to the fold for the second Test at Trent Bridge‚ where South Africa won by 340 runs 40 minutes before tea on the fourth day on Monday.
It was their first win at the ground since 1965‚ and England’s first loss in 10 years in which they have won six Tests and drawn another there.
There were other changes between Lord’s and Trent Bridge. JP Duminy was dropped‚ Chris Morris and Duanne Olivier cracked the nod‚ and conditions suited swing and seam rather than spin.
But it was difficult to deny that Du Plessis was the difference.
Not that the man himself would say so.
“All I try and do is make sure the things I know that make a change in the team‚ I drill them very hard‚” Du Plessis said.
“It’s not a Faf factor. There are a few obvious things for me that I focus on and that generally brings the best out of the team and the players.
“I enjoy doing it. I think it brings the best out of me.”
Vernon Philander thought otherwise.
“The calmness around him and his leadership‚ it’s massive‚” Philander said.
“There’s no sense of panic when the team have their backs against the wall. That’s what he brings to the party.
“It makes it so much easier. There’s a lot more responsibility on senior players‚ and the guys take it so well coming from him being so relaxed.”
Du Plessis has presided over nine victories‚ and a solitary loss‚ in his 13 Tests in charge.
The defeat came in the third Test in Adelaide‚ a dead rubber made relevant by the fact that it was South Africa’s first day/night‚ pink-ball match — and by the mounting pressure on Du Plessis in the throes of the “mintgate” ball-tampering scandal.
He rose to the challenge by scoring a brilliant 118 not out.
South Africa have won all four series they have played under Du Plessis’ leadership. Another success at The Oval in the match that starts on July 27 will make that five.
More evidence of the Faf factor is that without him at Lord’s‚ South Africa dropped three catches‚ fluffed another‚ and bowled 10 no-balls — two of which would have taken wickets.
With him at Trent Bridge‚ no chances were spilled and not one no-ball was sent down.
But Du Plessis had the good grace to shy away when asked how South Africa’s women’s team should go about beating England in their World Cup semi-final in Bristol on Tuesday.
“Maybe they can give us some advice‚” he said with a nod to the dismal record the men’s team have assembled in major tournaments.
“They’ve been exceptional. They’ve dominated their games.
“It’s been amazing to see the skipper [leg spinner Dane van Niekerk] leading from the front‚ bowling like Shane Warne.
“Once they win the final we’ll have beer with them and they can give us some information on how to do it.”
Everyone present had a good-natured chuckle at that.
Joe Root wasn’t in the room. He should have been‚ if only to be cheered up a touch.
“I definitely feel older - it's been a tough week‚” Root said.
“Root is reeling‚” was The Observer’s headline on Sunday‚ which was also when former England captain Michael Vaughan took a swipe while commentating for BBC radio’s Test Match Special.
“The England batting has been appalling‚” Vaughan said. “Maybe it’s a lack of respect about what the game is.”
On Monday‚ when Jonny Bairstow hammered the ninth ball after lunch straight into the hands of mid-on to reduce England to 84/5 on their spiral to a total of 133‚ Vaughan said: “I can’t believe I have seen that.
"All you need to do is dangle the carrot and they'll go for it. Dumb batting! What is he thinking?”
Vaughan‚ though‚ was full of praise for Philander‚ who took 2/48 and 3/24 and scored 54 and 42.
“Philander is the worst possible bowler to face when you’re trying to get a score‚” Vaughan said as the soon-to-be man-of-the-match swept in with the new ball in the second innings.
Root‚ who was Vaughan’s club teammate at Sheffield Collegiate‚ was unamused.
“I think that’s very unfair - I can’t believe he’s actually said that to be honest‚” Root said.
You can say it ain’t so‚ Joe. But that means nothing until you prove it wrong.