This is the biggest challenge of my leadership - Faf du Plessis
'When preparing for a World Cup, you try and make it just another game of cricket. Unfortunately, there is more expectation and that is the same for you as a captain.'
LONDON - For the seventh time since arriving in the UK, Faf du Plessis sat down to speak to the media for a pre-match press conference.
On the previous six occasions, he largely spoke on the same topics: the fitness of his players, his strategic plans, the form of his batsmen, the reliance of his bowlers. On occasions, he fielded questions on AB de Villiers. Once he urged his team not to “take a left turn into negative town”.
But now, for the first time, he was asked a question about his leadership. After three defeats and one washed out game, the Proteas are second-last on the log with only one point. Every one of their five remaining matches is a must win. Is this the most difficult challenge he has faced as captain?
“Yes, I think thus far,” Du Plessis admitted. “When preparing for a World Cup, you try and make it just another game of cricket. Unfortunately, there is more expectation and that is the same for you as a captain.”
Du Plessis continued: “The start we’ve had has made that really challenging. This is the biggest challenge. But that is what the last three years of captaining this side has prepared me for. Whether it’s good situations or bad situations, you try to mature as much as you can as a captain to try and be ready for when it’s tough.
“It’s a hard time, but it’s also a time that I’m really owning up to. I need to step up and make sure that I lead the team in a time when they need me. Now it feels like it’s do or die,” he said.
The first of the quintet of do-or-die clashes is arguably the easiest. Afghanistan came into the competition with much excitement and a whole lot of mystery but have looked out of their depth, losing comfortably to Australia, England and Sri Lanka.
Their twin spin demons Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi have only collected seven wickets between them and have failed to stamp their mark on the event in the manner that befits their pedigree.
They won’t find much help here in Cardiff. Because of the almost ceaseless drizzle over the last week across most of the UK, the covers have stayed on, which has kept the pitch under an incubating greenhouse. This has encouraged the growth of grass on the surface, which is a blessing for seamers looking to nip it laterally but is a nightmare for the slower bowlers eager for grip.
Furthermore, the short straight boundaries mean that all bowlers, spinners and seamers might be forced to pull their lengths back in an effort to avoid being smacked down the ground.
South Africa have only ever played two T20s against Afghanistan in international cricket (winning both) and would be confident of brushing them aside in good times. But these are not good times.
“We’ve had a bad start to the tournament, but that’s done now,” Du Plessis said. “We have to make sure that we try and put all of our energy and focus into the now and what’s coming next. I truly believe if we stay, if we carry those ghosts of the last loss with us, then it’s going to be tough to get out of the hole.”
The poor weather and space between games has allowed Du Plessis some one-on-one time with every member of the squad. He said that he had focused on identifying what makes each individual click and was doing whatever he could to help them shift their attention to the task at hand.
“The situation is super clear for us,” he said. “Our backs are against the wall as a team. So, hopefully that allows the guys to come out and play the way we want them to play and that they can play. And I believe if we truly do play that way we’ll be a dangerous team. But we haven’t fully unlocked the potential that we do have in our side.”