Du Plessis keeps the faith despite two Proteas losses
In sporting terms, the Proteas are staring into the abyss. But there are no guarantees in sport. As we have already seen in the competition, upsets do happen. Hope endures so long as the captain keeps the faith.
LONDON - Faf du Plessis is a spiritual man. His Twitter account, followed by 1.65 million people, states that he is a ‘Jesus follower’, a father, a husband and a pro cricketer in that order.
With his side winless from two games, South Africa’s captain must now face the proverbial valley of shadow and death against Virat Kohli and his vaunted Indians.
The BCCI, India’s board, are not evil, not in the true sense of the word, but they are the bullies of the cricket world. They have used their enviable influence to strong-arm the ICC into changing the World Cup schedule, allowing them an extra week of preparation over their competition. India were originally meant to open their account against Bangladesh on Sunday. As it is, their first game will be South Africa’s third.
What du Plessis would give for an extra fortnight of rest and recuperation. Another twinge to Dale Steyn’s shoulder has ruled the Proteas’ greatest ever bowler out of the World Cup. Lungisani Ngidi has been sidelined for up to ten days with a grade one strain in his hamstring. Kagiso Rabada, now the only genuine fast bowler in a team that built its pre-tournament strategy on an attack filled with them, has looked down on pace and menace.
The rest of the side are short of runs, lacking confidence and know that a defeat tomorrow would leave them no margin for error in their remaining six games. It is in times like this that strong leadership is required.
“I have to front up,” Du Plessis said. “I am the captain of this team and players are looking for someone to lead them. All I can do is try my absolute best. That doesn’t mean results. I wish it did.”
Du Plessis, poignantly forthright throughout his media briefing, continued: “I am trying to make sure that I stay positive for the team. That I stay strong and encourage other guys in the team and the other leaders to also stay strong. At no stage in the game can we as a senior player group look like we are down and out. It is not an option for us. We are a very proud cricketing nation. No matter how bad it gets I will keep driving that.”
But leadership can only do so much. Du Plessis is as good as they come, arguably the best skipper his country has ever produced, but even the best chef will struggle to win a Michelin Star with inferior ingredients.
“I’ve said before, this is probably not our strongest team that we have ever had coming to the World Cup,” du Plessis confessed, bemoaning the string of injuries that have scuppered his plan.
“We’ve planned for the worst-case scenario and now we have to go to our all-rounders.”
That could mean that Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Chris Morris feature prominently with the ball. Morris, a bowler who possesses a little extra nip than the rest, could take the new ball, something he last did in an ODI two years ago.
This is not the ideal situation to take on Kohli, the undisputed king of 50 over cricket who, in October, became the fastest man to 10,000 runs in the format, getting to the record with 54 innings to spare.
Supporting Kohli is the opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikar Dhawan. Since the last World Cup in 2015, the trio have carried the bulk of India’s run getting, scoring 61.8% of their side’s ODI runs. No other team is as reliant on their top three with South Africa next on the list with 53.37%. If the Proteas are to triumph tomorrow, they will need to get early wickets.
This emphasises the importance of Rabada. With the team shorn of an out and out new ball wicket-taker at the other end, the world’s fifth-best bowler - according to the ICC rankings - must shoulder his side’s hopes on his broad frame.
His battle with Kohli adds extra intrigue to the piece. In a recent interview, the South African spoke of a confrontation in this year’s IPL.
“When you give it back to him, he gets angry. I don’t get the guy. Maybe he does it because it gets him going, but that comes across as very immature for me. He is a phenomenal player, but he can’t take abuse.”
Kohli dismissed any talk of a feud between the two modern greats but the way he responded gave the gathered press reason for pause. “If anything needs to be discussed we can discuss it man to man,” Kohli shot back, clearly ready for a fight.
Like the board they represent, and the president who governs their nation, this Indian team look to bully their opposition. They have an outstanding bowling unit, are ruthless in the field and attack the new ball with remorseless aggression.
South Africa are bloodied and bruised after two chastening defeats. In sporting terms, they are staring into the abyss. But there are no guarantees in sport. As we have already seen in the competition, upsets do happen. Hope endures so long as the captain keeps the faith.