Faf back at the scene of triumphs and trials to try to clinch ODI series
Australians won’t want to know this‚ but the most successful active batsman in one-day internationals between their team and South Africa is again in their midst. And he’s not one of theirs.
Already they don’t like him for all sorts of reasons. For batting for more than a day to deny them a Test victory. For the tightness of his shirts. For what he has done to the ball while he has had a mint in his mouth.
Now he’s back in Australia‚ and if he leads South Africa to victory in the second ODI on Friday the Aussies will have another reason to sneer as they say his name: Faf du Plessis.
He led South Africa to success in their Test series there in November 2016‚ and his team are one win away from engineering their second series triumph among the people who love to despise him.
Better yet‚ Du Plessis is back in Adelaide — where he made his debut in 2012 and batted for more than 11 hours for his scores of 78 and 110 not out‚ where he came under massive pressure in 2016 after footage emerged of him and the mint and the ball during the previous Test in Hobart‚ and scored an undefeated 118.
The shirts? They’ve always been tight‚ and not only in Australia.
“It was a bit different to this; there were a few more cameras around‚” Du Plessis said with a smile in Adelaide on Thursday‚ remembering what he was up against in the beautiful southern Gothic city two years ago.
“But I love coming to Adelaide. This ground is probably my favourite in the world when it comes to playing cricket here. I’ve got some extremely good memories here.”
Ever the diplomat‚ he hastened to add: “This and Newlands are my two favourite grounds.”
Actually‚ that could go for most grounds on which he has clashed with the Aussies.
Du Plessis is the highest run-scorer among current players in ODIs involving South Africa and Australia‚ and he has the highest average. He is one of only three players to have scored three centuries in games between these teams.
The others are Herschelle Gibbs‚ who is long gone as a player‚ and David Warner‚ who is serving a ban for masterminding a ball-tampering plot during the Newlands Test in March.
That punishment was handed down not by the International Cricket Council but by Cricket Australia (CA).
So it’s worth wondering where Du Plessis’s career might be had he been Australian‚ considering he has twice been done for the same offence as Warner.
Did he think Warner and cohorts Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft‚ who were banned by CA for between nine months and a year‚ had been hard done by?
“It’s difficult for me to comment on that‚” Du Plessis said. “When it happened we thought that was harsh on the players ’cause there’s been so many players who have been in similar boats.
“But I wasn’t [in Australia] to understand how the people were affected by it or offended by it. The backlash that we saw in South Africa was massive.
“We could see it’s probably bigger in Australia than it has been or will be anywhere else in the world.”
Du Plessis had his own taste of how big this kind of thing can get the last time he was in Adelaide‚ when the South Africa players were hounded by a large media pack at their hotel and at the ground‚ and the team’s overzealous security staff brutally manhandled reporters at the airport. But‚ on Thursday‚ he spoke into only three microphones.
“My character was tested through that week‚” he said of his previous visit. “It was good to learn that I had resilience.
“My outcome for that week was to tell myself that if I get through this it will prove a lot about my character.”
It also proved to Du Plessis that the Australian press take no prisoners.
“As good as the press are [to Australia’s team] when they’re playing well‚ when the performance is not there there’s the same amount of hype around that‚” he said.
That means South Africa can count the Aussie press as allies on this tour‚ what with them asking all sorts of awkward questions about a team who have lost 17 of their last 19 completed ODIs.
“Perth flop points to a long‚ lonely summer of Australian cricket‚” ran the headline in the Melbourne Age after South Africa won the first ODI by six wickets on Sunday‚ and the reporting on the ructions that have followed the Newlands Test has been unflinching.
But some Australians will take as the ultimate sign of decline Du Plessis’s answer to the standard question on what changes South Africa might make for Friday’s game.
“We’re still looking at combinations‚” he said. “The obvious thing would be to play the same team‚ but we’re constantly thinking about how we can get guys more experienced for the World Cup.
“We’re still fine-tuning that balance.”
What? Using mighty Australia‚ five times the World Cup champions‚ including currently‚ to experiment? How bloody dare the man?
Perhaps. But the more relevant question is about how far the Australians have fallen.