Finally, Faf du Plessis’ bat has answered.
15, 4, 9, 2*, 5 and 20, these were the scores South African skipper Faf du Plessis belted throughout the series. His parched runs column didn’t really affect his side as runs were flowing from the other end, nor did it bother his captaincy, but this couldn’t have been going on for long. South Africa wanted its charismatic captain to rediscover his lost mojo and lead the side with an example.
The last time Du Plessis raised his bat towards heavens was way back in October 2017 against Bangladesh. This is not the kind of standard Du Plessis sets for himself, he belongs to a rare breed of impactful cricketers. Blessed with a sound and rock-solid technique, Du Plessis has been one of the pillars of strength in this South African side across formats. He has been the unsung hero on numerous occasions due to the presence of superstars in the line-up. He has been the silent assassin and has done his job quite effectively.
Coming to this series, the pressure was on South Africa, they haven’t won a series against Australia at home since 1970. This was their best shot to break the winless streak since they defeated the same side Down Under last year. They were high on confidence and the series win against India earlier this year only added to it. But their skipper was struggling to get the runs. He didn’t have a great time against India, where he garnered just 183 runs from six innings. And Australian attack was always going to be a challenge of another kind.
Things didn’t change for Du Plessis in first six innings against Australia, his struggle looked real. More importantly, he was struggling to judge the ball and was often confused regarding what stroke to offer. If one introspects his performances in the recent times, it can be concluded that Du Plessis has struggled in judging the deliveries, especially the ones coming into him.
In the first innings of the ongoing Johannesburg Test, he didn’t offer a stroke to an incoming delivery from Pat Cummins. Result? He was handed a golden duck. The ball was pitched on length and Cummins did well to nip it in. It was a brutal first delivery, but Du Plessis could have done better. South Africa did have enough runs on the board, but the pressure on Du Plessis was only mounting. His search for runs continued without any fruitful result.
South African bowlers did well in dismantling Australia cheaply and gained a massive first innings lead. There wouldn’t have been a better platform for Du Plessis to rediscover his form. Australia were under immense pressure, the onus of making a comeback was on them.
Du Plessis walked in at 79 for 2, there wasn’t much to worry about but when South Africa lost AB de Villiers early, a partnership was badly needed. Du Plessis stuck to his guns and ensured the job was done in his final innings of the series. He took the game on and was outstanding in placing his innings. Along with Dean Elgar, Du Plessis stitched a much-needed 170-run partnership to push Australia on the back foot.
Du Plessis was the aggressor in this stand, in his knock of 120 off 178 deliveries, Du Plessis smashed 18 boundaries and couple of sixes. He counter-attacked and this was exactly the kind of impact an in-form Du Plessis can have. He looked as solid as a rock and did well to gain some momentum. At times, a player whose willow has not yielded big runs for a while is bound to fizzle out after a 50 or a 60, but Du Plessis’ hunger was not fulfilled after a fifty. He continued his assault and went on to achieve the 100-run milestone.
Although Du Plessis looked in a great flow and scored runs at a brisk pace in this innings, but there are certain flaws he needs to resurrect in his batting. He is a stroke-maker but needs to make the right shot selection. In the recent times, he has gifted his wicket to the oppositions by not offering a shot. This is something Du Plessis would want to work on. As of now, it should be safe to say that the South African skipper is back in is rhythm and found his zen and zone at Johannesburg.
A thumpin win against the visitors has made the ton even sweeter.