A fragile sporting nation is crying out for another crowning moment, and Faf du Plessis is the ideal candidate to deliver it, writes KHALID MOHIDIN.
The country has always relied on sport to lift the mood and ease the concerns of the daily grind. That was the way in ’95 when the Springboks won their first-ever World Cup, and again a year later when Bafana Bafana stood proudly on top of the continent at Afcon ’96.
Harsh economic times and political uncertainty have set a dull tone to the year, but 2019 provides opportunity with all three of our major sporting teams in action at showpiece events.
The Proteas will begin their Cricket World Cup campaign in England at the end of next month as the country’s best sporting outfit – based on rankings – and No 1 hope of success.
The Proteas lie fourth on the ICC rankings and are outside favourites for the trophy. The Springboks sit fifth on the World Rugby Rankings as the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan approaches, while Bafana Bafana lies 73rd on the Fifa rankings, and head into June’s Afcon as the continent’s 14th-best team.
The Springboks have always been regarded as the most supported side in South Africa, and rightly so having picked up two World Cup trophies. The Proteas have kept the nation in the ‘friend zone’, coming close, but never finding themselves in the winner’s circle.
But this is a new Proteas side. With a new ethos, new combinations and a new approach. A unit looking to permanently shake off the dreaded ‘chokers’ tag.
The Proteas skipper – Faf du Plessis – is the key to unlocking his side’s potential, and in turn giving the country’s desperate sporting fans something to cheer about.
He has been at the forefront of an admirable team culture without ever compromising its competitive spirit.
Driven by a youthful core, Du Plessis has managed his young players remarkably, trusting in them and giving them buckets of responsibility. In return, they have paid him with performance and results. Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Aiden Markram and Andile Phehlukwayo have all stamped their authority as key players under his leadership.
The environment shouts Ubuntu – ‘I am because you are’ – an idea that breeds ‘oneness’, ‘compassion’ and ‘humanity’. Despite cultural and religious differences, there is a respect that filters down from Du Plessis right through the changing room. The players care for one another and stand by each other. More than anything, they support whoever dons that green and gold jersey.
From a cricketing perspective, Du Plessis is a captain that leads by example.
This has been proven by his performances since being handed the captain’s armband in 2013. His average appears incredibly healthy at 55.82 since that time, and includes four centuries and five 50s at an impressive strike rate of 94.34. (His average without the captaincy is 44.09, which includes seven centuries and 27 half-centuries at a strike rate of 86.74.)
‘Being a captain makes me play better, the confidence and momentum definitely helps with that,’ he said back in 2017 after hitting his career-best score of 185 in an ODI against Sri Lanka.
‘It just makes you raise your own bar of performance, you want to be a better player, so I challenged myself to be a good player, and now it’s to become a great player. It’s just about raising the bar in your own mental mind shift.’
Maybe 30 ODIs as skipper is not enough to take into consideration, but there has been evidence of improvement in Du Plessis’ game and approach since his selection.
In recent times he has held the Proteas’ batting lineup together in the midst of its fair share of collapses. A prime example was in the third ODI in Australia when Du Plessis hit a 114-ball 125 after the Proteas lost three wickets for just 44 runs. He dragged the side from a precarious position to a powerful one, and more of the same will be needed in England.
Based on recent form, Du Plessis has proven his importance, both as player and captain.
But this World Cup will test every measure of the man.
He has the responsibility to venture where no one else has before – and bring a nation together – by lifting South Africa’s first-ever World Cup trophy.
You could hardly think of a better candidate than Faf, the Proteas’ brave leader.
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