Faf du Plessis’ 199 was a good innings but not a special one, writes SA Cricket magazine editor Ryan Vrede.
Du Plessis fell agonisingly short of a rare milestone for a Test batsman, batting for 276 deliveries in an innings that put South Africa in control of the Test against Sri Lanka.
In the context of Sri Lanka’s depleted attack, one devoid of three frontline bowlers for the most part, and on a tame SuperSport Park wicket, it was a good innings, not a great one and certainly not a special one.
Du Plessis admitted as much in the post-match press conference, saying: ‘In match situations, I’ve made a lot better hundreds – when attacks are at their hottest, when conditions are at their toughest. I wouldn’t put this close to any of those.’
The celebration of Du Plessis’ achievement lacked perspective, particularly on social media, where Du Plessis’ disciples scolded those who had questioned his Test future following an England Test series – which started on Boxing Day 2019 and concluded in late January this year – during which he scored 151 runs in eight innings.
An average of 18 in that series is why Du Plessis’ Test future was being questioned. He looked like he had lost the appetite for the fight and mental grind that defines Test cricket. He was being exposed in ways he hadn’t been in the past, even against the world’s elite Test sides. There was no personal agenda, only a cricket one.
This was where the significance of Du Plessis innings in Centurion lies. He knows it and conceded it. ‘This was more, for me, from a timing and a statement point of view, to make sure I proved to people out there who doubted my ability that it hasn’t changed after a season or two. In fact, I am trying to make sure I can improve my performances,’ he said.
There are greater tests ahead for Du Plessis. A tour to Pakistan will further examine his competency, while Australia are set for a tour of South Africa in late March. As a Proteas fan I am encouraged by Du Plessis’ form. His scoring sequence across all formats this season reads: 58, 11, 52* and 199. This combined with an Indian Premier League campaign during which he excelled, suggests Du Plessis is in a great mental and technical space. This is reason to celebrate. This is reason to be optimistic about the Proteas’ capacity to mount strong batting showings in the months ahead.
There are also those who argued that we would only realise what we have in Du Plessis once he retires. This is perplexing. Any rational observer of the game has high regard for Du Plessis. His international record speaks for itself and his career features near superhuman feats of mental strength.
You’d have to be wilfully ignorant not to appreciate Du Plessis in the present. What happens after he retires should be irrelevant. This obsession these people have with the past is perplexing. SA cricket has and will survive retirements. Whats next is always more important than what’s gone.
I hope Du Plessis’ retirement is some way off yet. I hope he continues to exhibit his immense gifts for years to come. But I refuse to attribute more significance to his SuperSport Park innings than it deserves.
It was good. There will be opportunities for great and special innings in coming months. At that point we’ll revisit debates around his ongoing value to the Proteas.