Tue, 18 Jun 2019

Ageing Faf heading for golden summer

News24
13 Dec 2018, 01:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - Bags of runs already ... and reasonably modest incoming international series opponents to contemplate with some zeal in the remainder of the 2018/19 season.

The planets seem aligned, then, for a particularly prosperous, personal summer by Proteas captain Faf du Plessis.

His clear, seemingly heightened determination to dominate at the crease raises an inevitable question: are we watching his last home season as a national-level cricketer?

The technically soundly-equipped right-hander has looked a bastion of stability and purposeful accumulation of runs for several weeks already.

First he reminded of his enduring value, both as skipper and senior player, by playing a strong hand in South Africa's mini-sweep of Australia away recently: a 2-1 victory in the three-match ODI series and then another win for cherry-on-top purposes in the lone, weather-reduced Twenty20 international.

Du Plessis has an established knack of frustrating Australia's bowlers on their own shores - think that amazing stone-wall act in the drawn Adelaide Test of 2012/13 (his debut), plus a career average Down Under of 83 in five clashes spanning two series, both won.

But if he even needed to underline his versatility across the formats, he did so anyway by gradually building a menacing head of steam - 10 not out, 47 and 125 - in the recent ODI series.

The last knock was famous for his record-breaking, Aussie-demoralising stand of 252 with David Miller from the shaky terrain of 55 for three in the decider at Hobart.

But it was also a reminder of just how important he is as an almost Jacques Kallis-like anchorman in the current Proteas set-up, regardless of the whether at red- or white-ball level. There's a mounting serenity and assurance to his body language at the crease, at least partly the product of a wealth of experience that includes 178 SA appearances by him, as things stand, across the Test and ODI arenas.

The Proteas have too few of those barnacle figures in their frontline batting slots at present, a situation only made more acute by the increasingly apparent decline of once-mighty co-veteran Hashim Amla.

Since his belated infusion to the maiden season of the Mzansi Super League, in addition, Du Plessis has been an indispensable element in the plucky competitiveness of the Paarl Rocks, the "smallest" of the six teams included in the competition and a break from the domestic franchise mould as replacements for the central-provinces team.

As this was written - they were in the thick of crucial, late-stage round-robin combat with the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants at Boland Park - Du Plessis was lying fourth for most runs in the fledgling, much-debated T20 tournament, with 312 at an average of 62.40.

His strike rate of 163.35 was better, into the bargain, than all but one player (Proteas colleague Quinton de Kock, 174.67) in the top 10 MSL run-scorers.

Du Plessis' last four innings, ahead of the make-or-break tussle in the winelands, have been 61, 61, 38 and 76 not out.

So in a nutshell, Du Plessis is having what can't be too far off the time of his life as a triple-format cricketer.

On the immediate horizon lie series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both outside the traditional "top four" powers in world cricket and boasting shaky general records, to put it quite mildly, on South African soil.

There is decent scope, you would think, for Du Plessis (and others) to only improve their international statistics over the next two or three months: he currently averages 42.33 from 54 Tests and 45.12 from 124 ODIs.

At the tail-end of the summer (or more accurately, well into the local autumn) comes deepening contemplation of what will almost certainly be Du Plessis' third and last go at a World Cup in England.

The event tends to bring out the best in him: in 14 World Cup matches stretching back to 2011, he has plundered 539 runs at 53.90.

Unless he has made his future intentions crystal-clear to Cricket South Africa already, it is likely that they will try to coax him out of stepping down from international competition after CWC 2019, by which time he will be a ripe old 35 and invitingly set - if that's his wish - to join the burgeoning trend of players around that juncture of their lives stepping more fulltime onto the lucrative, travelling T20 franchise tourney circuit for a few years.

Some hopeful ammunition against that likelihood is a tantalising full-length visit by England to South Africa to chew on in 2019/20: that country currently head the ODI rankings and lie second in Tests, ahead of the Proteas in each instance.

But my suggestion (said with some element of regret and trepidation)? Enjoy Francois du Plessis while you can this summer, Proteas fans.

If he's going out, he looks intent on doing so in some style.

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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