Faf du Plessis’ retirement from Test cricket leaves a gaping hole in an already fragile batting lineup. SA Cricket magazine editor RYAN VREDE looks at potential replacements.
Just when you thought the Proteas’ rebuilding job was hard enough, it got harder. Du Plessis was the most senior batsman in a deeply dysfunctional batting unit, and while his form in the latter part of his career was ordinary, the Proteas would have hoped for him to hold on for just a bit longer, given his experience, talent and the phase of the rebuild they find themselves in.
He leaves a significant void from a leadership perspective as well. Du Plessis stepped down from the captaincy in early 2020 to focus on his batting. However, he continued to play a critical advisory role to his successor Quinton de Kock, as well as an informal leadership role in the wider squad. The incoming Test captain would have benefited greatly from Du Plessis’ presence and experience.
Du Plessis is the last member of the Proteas’ golden generation of batsmen – which included Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers – to hang up his baggy. The Proteas couldn’t be further from re-establishing that calibre of batting lineup.
Of the batsman who contested the last Test against Pakistan, only Du Plessis and Aiden Markram averaged 40 or above (with Dean Elgar close on 39.81). Replacing a player of Du Plessis’ ilk will be incredibly hard, especially since the quality of domestic cricket has declined markedly in recent years.
However, this is a reality the Proteas selectors will now have to face. These are the men in line to succeed Du Plessis:
RAYNARD VAN TONDER (KNIGHTS)
If the Proteas selectors are going to reward domestic form, Van Tonder is a no-brainer. The 22-year-old leads the run-scorer’s rankings in the CSA 4-Day Cup, having scored 604 runs at an average of 67.11. This run tally includes two hundreds and a half-century across his 10 innings. He bats at No 3 for the Knights, but could easily slot into Du Plessis’ position at No 4. Alternatively, Rassie van der Dussen could drop a spot in the lineup to accommodate Van Tonder.
KEEGAN PETERSEN (DOLPHINS)
Petersen has been knocking on the door of national selection for three years and this could put him in front of the queue to replace Du Plessis. He has averaged 50 or above for three straight seasons in domestic four-day cricket, and has currently amassed 346 runs across eight innings, which has included a century and fifty, at an average touching 57.
RUDI SECOND (WARRIORS)
At 31, Seconds is a seasoned domestic campaigner. He has scored 504 runs at an average of 56 in domestic four-day cricket, which includes two hundreds and a 50. Given that he bats at No 4 for the Warriors, he would be a like-for-like replacement for Du Plessis.
KYLE VERREYNNE (CAPE COBRAS)
The Cobras keeper has been around the Proteas set-up for two years, but hasn’t gotten a look in, given that he is seen to be competing with Quinton de Kock for a place. However, a domestic four-day average of 50 or above in four of the past five seasons suggests that he could make the team on the strength of his batting alone. This season he averages just shy of 60, having scored 355 runs across six innings. He usually bats at No 5 for the Cobras, but could make the transition to No 4. Alternatively, Temba Bavuma could be tasked with the job at four to accommodate him.