Faf du Plessis open to other paths to World Cup glory
Winning the World Cup would be good after years of trauma
26 May 2019 - 00:05
The best part of an hour passed before Faf du Plessis was asked a question from the floor at the World Cup captains' press conference in London on Thursday. And when it came, it was nothing he hadn't heard before.
SA have never had a boring World Cup. Their relationship with the tournament has always been dramatic - and occasionally traumatic. What would you consider progress this time?
Winning it, you idiot.
Du Plessis didn't say that. Instead, he said: "I really enjoyed that we started playing our best cricket towards the end of the tournament. We had a really good game against Sri Lanka in the quarterfinal and then a fantastic game against New Zealand, in which they were better than us on the day.
"If you're playing your best cricket and the opposition are better than you, you hold your head up high and say well done."
Once off stage he was quietly satisfied to have spent most of his time listening to his counterparts trying not to say the kind of thing the opposition print out and stick on the dressing room wall.
"I feel it," Du Plessis said. "It's my third World Cup and I can feel that there's not a lot of talk about SA."
Call it the Mandela effect. Once the great man walked out of prison and served his term as president, thus following the preferred script for his destiny, the world grew bored of SA and turned to more exciting stuff to read on the loo or watch over dinner.
Seven World Cups have come and gone without SA playing like the sum of their parts, especially when it mattered. Ho hum. Cricket has changed the channel on them.
But, having been part of the generation that has tried plan A, Du Plessis is open to exploring other paths to glory.
"If you look on paper, we are a younger team, with probably fewer names than we've had in the past, but I really enjoy that about our team.
"If we want to do well in this tournament everyone has got to come to the party. We can't rely on one or two big names. If you do that, as has been shown in the past, it's not good enough.
"If that gives everyone an opportunity to be 10% better on the day, that's great."
In fact, an average age of 29.5 puts SA on par with England as the World Cup's second-oldest squads after Sri Lanka, whose mean player is 29.9.
But you can see what Du Plessis means. For the first time in 20 years - when the World Cup last came to England - they will not have Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith or AB de Villiers to pin their hopes on.
They do have bona fide bombshells in Kagiso Rabada, Quinton de Kock, and a slow ticking bomb in Andile Phehlukwayo. And who knows how much greatness Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn have left to spend on this one last time with feeling?
They also have Du Plessis, the right man in the right place at the right time, to lead a team not given much of a chance.
"There's never a right or a wrong time," he said.
"I'm the guy who's the captain of the team at the moment. I'm certainly not putting any more pressure on myself than there is already on all of us.
"SA is a proud cricketing nation. They're expecting results. They're expecting us to win the tournament. That's an outcome that I'm not in control of right now.
"If we play good cricket at this tournament then we'll cross that bridge. Now it's about focusing on the things we're actually in control of - practising well, making sure we have a really good team culture, making sure we speak the right stuff within our environment. All the other stuff is absolutely uncontrollable."
Of the controllables, SA's bowlers hold the key for Du Plessis."If you have the attack we have, we can defend anything [and] we can bowl teams out for anything. If your bowlers are on [form] the score is not as big a factor as that you can take wickets."Batting, bowling. Whatever. Thursday, the Oval, England. The opening match can't come quickly enough."Everyone's just excited to go now. There's been a lot of planning, practising, getting combinations right, a lot of players that we've tested over the last year or two."Beat the No.1-ranked team - who are also sounding like the game's flakiest team in their refusal to accept that status - and the focus on all that will soften.Big game on Thursday, then, skipper?..