Faf du Plessis has opened up on the social-media reaction to an altercation between him and New Zealand 12th man Kyle Mills following the 2011 World Cup quarter-final.
In an interview with Cricket Monthly, the former Proteas captain describes the personal toll of being a professional cricketer – particularly when you are an abrasive character.
Following South Africa’s quarter-final exit from the 2011 World Cup, Du Plessis was docked 50% of his match fee after a confrontation with Mills. The scene caused an explosion online.
‘I received death threats after that [match]. My wife received death threats. We turned on social media and we were blown away. It became very personal. There were some very offensive things said that I won’t repeat.
‘It makes you introverted towards people and you put a shield up. All players go through this and it forces us to keep our circles very small.’
Du Plessis has been known as a strong character his entire career. The picture his teammates paint of him is of someone fiercely loyal, always willing to put the team first.
JP Duminy exemplifies the way in which the Proteas rallied around their captain following ‘mint-gate’ in Australia where Du Plessis was fined for applying saliva to the ball with a mint in his mouth.
‘They were barking up trees. Faf didn’t do anything wrong. But his battle galvanised us as a team. He was a captain who cared so much about his players.
‘A weaker character would have folded under that pressure. He proved his strength by scoring a hundred straight after that. That innings typified what Faf is all about.
‘I remember the mood in the change room when he was batting. Even though the team was struggling, it was one of the best feelings. We were so happy for him. It felt like justice.’
The fighting spirit that Faf typifies was clear from his Test debut in 2012 where his unbeaten century help steer South Africa to a miraculous draw.
Du Plessis would go on to become Australia’s nemesis and remains the only SA captain to have won a Test series both in South Africa and Australia.
The 2018 Test series in South Africa stands out for many reasons – ‘Sandpapergate’ not least among them – but Du Plessis also recalls his confrontation with Australia opener David Warner in the tunnel during a break in play.
‘I’ve received enough abuse from David Warner to know what his voice sounds like. I turned the shower off and grabbed a towel. I wasn’t really thinking about it. When one of my guys is being challenged, I always want to come to the forefront.
‘It’s quite funny looking back, it does look like an alpha move to try pick a fight in my towel. The memes that came from that made me laugh.
‘The best joke I heard was that if there had been a fistfight, the first thing to hit the ground would have been my towel.’
Faf du Plessis retired from Test cricket as one of South Africa’s most accomplished captains – a natural leader who is seventh on the list of all time Proteas run-scorers across all formats. But Du Plessis hopes there’s more to his legacy than just that.
‘I never considered myself a great player but I knew I was a good player. More important than that, I hope that I’m known as someone who moved our culture. I hope I made it a healthier place for new people coming in.
‘You don’t have to be a hard guy who doesn’t show weakness. Vulnerability is strength. Our dressing room is now filled with guys who are comfortable sharing their emotions with the group.
‘I’m proud that I helped facilitate that. I hope I proved that you can be tough and gentle at the same time.’