A chance encounter with Liverpool’s enigmatic manager Jurgen Klopp left an impression on Faf du Plessis.
It was over a meal with his good friend Siya Kolisi, who happens to be a massive Liverpool fan, that the Proteas skipper got to know the man who has brought a glut of silverware to the coffers at Anfield.
‘I was really impressed by him,’ said Du Plessis. ‘For him to be that famous as a football coach, he’s a great guy.
‘That is what real leadership is about. Connecting with people, having great relationships with people. I’m not a huge football fan but I am a supporter of him.’
Du Plessis recognised that part of Klopp’s charm lies in this success and the German has overseen a remarkable period on the red side of the River Mersey. The Proteas skipper knows that a successful summer against England will have bring a cheer back to fans of South African cricket.
‘Whatever we have done before the start of the series means nothing,’ said Du Plessis. ‘We will get measured on the way we’ll play. We’ve done the right things this week as a team and now it’s about going out there.’
Getting out on the field will come as a welcome relief for Du Plessis who has seen a month of dramatic change at Cricket South Africa and in his own camp where an new team of coaches has stepped in.
But, as he rightly acknowledged, the positivity he said is swirling around the squad will dissipate should his players fail to step up against an England team that has not lost a series in South Africa for almost 20 years.
With Temba Bavuma’s injured hip ruling him out of selection, Rassie van der Dussen will make his Test debut at number five. And though he has yet to experience the intensity of a five-day international contest, Van der Dussen has the complete backing of his captain.
‘He’s a mature cricketer and knows his game really well,’ Du Plessis said of the latest addition to the middle order. ‘It was similar when he came into the one-day side. He came into International cricket looking very comfortable. We have been looking at him for a while. Some guys are just suited to international cricket. He will be very much at home.’
Another player who will likely make his debut on Thursday is all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius. Du Plessis stressed the importance of including a fourth seamer who could contribute at least 10 overs per innings as well as score crucial runs in the lower middle-order.
That means that Quinton de Kock will be asked to bat one position higher at number six, though he might not enjoy the promotion up the order.
De Kock has batted at number seven 32 times in his career and averages 49.9 with five centuries and seven half-tons. At six, he averages 27.9 from 22 innings with only five half-centuries. Be that as it may, de Kock has all the ingredients to rectify this disparity.
That leaves just one question to be made answered over night. Who will serve as the third seam bowler?
It’s a straight shootout between Anrich Nortje, Beuran Hendricks and Dane Paterson. Nortje is expected to win this contest given his extra pace ad aggression.
Du Plessis joked with the gathered press and was open with his answers. The trademark glint has returned to his eye. The good times are back in the South African dressing room, how long they remain will depend on performances in the middle.