The most amazing bit of information Francois ‘Faf’ du Plessis is not the fact that he has scored 739 runs at 61.58 with three hundreds. He has batted four times in the fourth innings of Tests: in these innings he has scored 342 runs at 114.00 with two hundreds, both of which will find their place in the history of South African cricket.
It had started with his debut at Adelaide: he had started off with a brilliant 159-ball 78, but he was hardly a man who would remain content with that. Michael Clarke had set South Africa 430 or, more realistically, to bat out a day-and-a-half. They were 45 for four in 21 overs when du Plessis walked out to join AB de Villiers.
He batted out the rest of the Test: of course, he found support at the other end, first from de Villiers (220-ball 33 in 246 minutes; stand of 89 in 68 overs) and then from Jacques Kallis (110-ball 46; stand of 99 in 39.1 overs), but was left on his own after that.
He needed to spend 20 overs in the middle with Dale Steyn, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, and Imran Tahir; fortunately, only the first three needed to bat, as du Plessis guided the tourists to the safety of a draw. His 376-ball epic lasted for 446 minutes, and though the 110 not out does not sound a big score, it was worth every bit of it in solid gold.
The world knew that this was someone special. “Instant cricket” has given birth to many an outrageous hitter; old-fashioned cricket has groomed grafters; both have their own roles in the sport. What, then, are the qualities that make du Plessis stand out in a side of stars?
The one thing that is common to both of du Plessis’ two epics (the second being the 134 against India at New Wanderers) is the fact that he believed. On the first occasion he knew he had the ability to back himself to bat out the 125-odd overs (since his arrival at the crease); here, too, he knew that batting out a hundred overs was possible. In the end, he almost pulled off a miracle victory (once again in the august company of de Villiers).
The confidence to back his own abilities over a prolonged period of time is probably the biggest edge du Plessis has over his contemporaries. In Faf’s world the word “impossible” does not exist: batting out four sessions or having a go at a 450-run chase are perfectly doable with proper application.
Let us not confuse this with the self-belief of, say, Virender Sehwag. Of course it needs supreme self-belief to become a quality cricketer, more so to become a Sehwag. There is, however, a difference: while Sehwag backs himself to clear the field (or the rope) every ball, du Plessis actually backs himself over a span of several hours, even over a day.
It should not be forgotten that he has all the basics working in his favour: he has a simple, no-nonsense technique, based on an uncomplicated approach: he sees the ball early, is an excellent judge of where his off-stump is, leaves the correct ball on merit, and can defend solidly, both forward and back.
He has also developed a very versatile array of strokes all around the ground, which makes him a very difficult batsman to contain, if he decides to accelerate. The most attractive of these must be the booming off-drive (a rarity these days), which, if connected well, can reduce the long-off fielder to a spectator.
It’s scary, the way du Plessis has inducted himself into a team of men who believe. These are the same bunch who had believed that 435 was chase-able in an One-Day International (ODI). They already have in their ranks fourth innings champions in the form of Graeme Smith (1,577 runs at 54.37 in fourth innings), de Villiers (899 runs at 44.95), Kallis (1,332 runs at 41.62), and Hashim Amla (790 runs at 39.50).
Smith, of course, is the Don Bradman of successful chases, having scored 1,114 runs at 85.69 with four hundreds (nobody else has reached a thousand); additionally, Amla has 849 runs at 49.94, Kallis has 576 runs at 48.00, and as for de Villiers, 320 at 45.71.
And now, this new demon of fourth-innings who believes he can do anything under the Sun. Be very scared of them South Africans. They just don’t believe in losing.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)