Faf du Plessis must be retained as the Proteas’ skipper for the Sri Lanka Test series regardless of AB de Villiers’ return.
The Proteas are in a good space at the moment. Of that, there can be no doubt. After a period of inactivity and decline down the rankings, the Proteas have impressed with a 1-0 Test series win over New Zealand in August, followed by a 5-0 ODI series win over Australia, which was backed up with a 2-1 Test series win Down Under.
All of that has been accomplished under the leadership of Du Plessis.
Yet, what stood out almost as much as those results has been the manner in which they’ve been achieved. Particularly during the Proteas’ outstanding exploits against Australia, there were once again encouraging signs of a confident swagger that accompanied the team as they went about their business.
Notably, the Proteas’ fighting spirit of old was back again, while perhaps just as importantly, smiles returned to the faces of a South African team that looked to be in a happy space.
In the high-pressure cauldron of professional sport, not for one second should the importance of a united and happy team environment be underestimated. In this regard, just think of the on-field effects that followed the changeroom breakdown that ripped through the England camp when Kevin Pietersen and various other key roleplayers found themselves at loggerheads.
And when talks of a senior player clique emerged during the Graeme Smith era, many put some of the Proteas’ struggles down to this off-field division at the time.
This all stands in stark contrast to the Proteas’ team environment that has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of Du Plessis. One only has to look at the way the likes of Imran Tahir often charged into his arms in celebration during the Australian ODI series, or to see the manner in which Du Plessis happily planted a congratulatory kiss on Kagiso Rabada’s head after taking a wicket in Australia, to see that this is a very close-knit team.
In addition to some very powerful indicators that this is a team that plays passionately for their captain, there were also some positive signs that Du Plessis is the sort of captain that has the ability to bring back a hard edge to Proteas cricket.
The manner in which he brushed off juvenile crowd boos to record a fighting century before boldly declaring at 259-9 on the first day of the third Test, was such a pleasing moment that the end result of the match faded into relative obscurity.
What Du Plessis achieved, with that somewhat ‘cocky’ declaration, was to send out a message as strong as ever that the Proteas have rediscovered their swagger. In another sense, it was a case of Du Plessis shaking off any semblance of the ‘nice guy’ act, and even Australia conceded after the day’s play that it was a move that got under their skin.
Too many times in the past (think World Cup knockout matches), the Proteas haven’t had the mental resolve to match their on-field abilities, while occasionally failing to think boldly outside of the box.
Yet, under Du Plessis, it seems as if the Proteas will dare to be different. The matter, really, is only complicated by the fact that designated Test captain De Villiers, is set to be fit and ready for the Boxing Day red ball affair in Port Elizabeth.
Although nothing has been confirmed, talk from CSA suggests that De Villiers is likely to reclaim the captaincy, but while it would be an understandable decision, it hardly seems like a necessary one.
It’s clear that Du Plessis is a comfortable and confident leader, and while it’s a role that is also well-suited to De Villiers, he last played an international match way back in June.
It would make complete sense to allow him to focus entirely on rediscovering his batting form, rather than to be burdened by the responsibilities of captaincy.
For all intents and purposes, there is no need to disrupt the harmonious winning formula under the leadership of Du Plessis. As a result, he should be entrusted to lead the Proteas through at least the next three festive season Tests against Sri Lanka before an open dialogue can once again be brought up on the matter.
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