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South Africa have a proper Test captain again

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Faf_du_Plessis_South_Africa_cricketAnother Test series in Australia, another famous series win for South Africa. That is now three wins from the last three tours, and like in previous occasions, the Proteas showed great character and fight to get the job done.

Every one of these tours has had its heroes and provided some magic moments. Terrific leadership has always been something central to the success though, with Graeme Smith’s finest moments as captain perhaps taking place down under. Just think back to Graeme Smith coming out to bat with a broken hand to save the Test at the SCG. The Aussies won that day, but Smith and his one hand resistance was all anyone can remember from it.

Since the long and illustrious captaincy career of Graeme Smith in the Proteas team ended, there has been nobody to truly replace South African cricket’s greatest leader. This latest tour of Australia however may just have announced Faf Du Plessis as such a person.

Before we get to Faf, let’s just recap. Graeme Smith retired, Hashim Amla got the job, didn’t want the job. AB de Villiers assumed the job, questioned his workload with the job, injured himself playing T20 cricket, had to relinquish the job while recovering from surgery.

Faf Du Plessis went from being discarded by the Proteas in the losing England series, to coming back into the fold when AB de Villiers was ruled out of the two Test home series versus New Zealand through injury. The Proteas won that series, Du Plessis scored a century in the series-deciding win in Centurion, and he was then leading the team to the all important tour of Australia.

With de Villiers still out through injury, this really was going to be a sink or swim moment for the middle order batsman who burst onto the international scene on a previous tour to Australia.

Day 1 of the first Test in Perth, his side gets bundled out cheaply, then made to chase leather in the final session as David Warner thrashed the bowling to all corners at an alarming rate. Things were not looking good for Du Plessis and his team, and they were about to get even worse as Dale Steyn reinjured his right shoulder, ruling him out of the rest of the series.

Cometh the hour, cometh the captain. Du Plessis somehow managed to spur his bowlers onto a terrific fight back. Australia collapsed and the Proteas never looked back after getting a famous win against all odds.

Into the second Test, Du Plessis wins the toss and put the home side into bat. Australia collapse again, and again the Proteas run away with things and notch up an innings victory and emphatically claim the series 2-0 with a Test to spare.

The elation was short lived, as Du Plessis was then embroiled in a nasty ball tampering charge. Seen using a mint to create additional saliva to shine the ball, he had to sit through a hearing in the build up to the third Test, and was ultimately found guilty and fined.

This was, of course, the tip of the iceberg. A media storm was unleashed upon him. The Australian press, with little of a positive nature to write about their own team, went on a full offensive against the Proteas skipper, with one pesky reporter in particular doing his best to get in his face for a comment. It was clear his intentions were more to try and get a reaction rather than anything constructive.

Du Plessis stayed composed throughout, not letting the chaos get the better of him. Regardless of whether he did anything truly sinister or not, he took it all in his stride like the great leader he is.

Come the third Test, he strode out onto the Adelaide Oval to a chorus of boos and jeers. His team was in trouble at 44/3, but he stood up to the heat with an incredible 118*, and beyond that decided he would push things further with a ballsy declaration to give his bowlers a chance to put pressure on the Aussie batsmen under lights.

The move didn’t pay off for him sadly, and the Aussies finally came good to win the 3rd and final Test, but we’d seen enough to confirm that Faf Du Plessis is the real deal in the toughest form of the game.

You need a captain who doesn’t shy away from the challenge, instead taking it head on. You need a captain who backs himself, and knows how to get the most out of those around him. The Proteas won this series without Dale Steyn, without AB de Villiers, and with a woefully under par Hashim Amla. It takes a very special leader to pull this off.

Cricket South Africa says that AB de Villiers is still the official Test captain, and will naturally return as such when fit again in December. Common sense has to prevail here though, and Du Plessis must be retained.

Faf Du Plessis and AB de Villiers were at the same school together, and all through their developmental years Faf was the captain, AB was the star player. It worked for them back then, it will work for them again here.

This does create a selection poser for the upcoming Sri Lanka Test series, but top teams will always have the problem of where to fit talent. One thing a top team should never have to worry about is their captain. And with Faf Du Plessis in that role, they won’t need to.

Proteas Test team (plus considerations) for the Sri Lanka series :

1: Cook
2: Elgar/Rossouw
3: Amla
4: de Villiers
5: Du Plessis (c)
6: Bavuma/Duminy
7: De Kock
8: Philander
9: Maharaj/Shamsi
10: Rabada
11: Abbott

Sri Lanka Test tour fixtures :

1st Test: 26 December 2016 - SA vs Sri Lanka (Port Elizabeth)
2nd Test: 2 January 2017 – SA vs Sri Lanka (Cape Town)
3rd Test: 12 January 2017 – SA vs Sri Lanka (Johannesburg)

 

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