Had JP Duminy not hurt his Achilles tendon in the first Test in Brisbane, Faf du Plessis might not have featured in the second Test at Adelaide in 2012. The Australian team led by the marvellous Michael Clarke, were in no mood to repeat the story of 2008 and tightened the screw each day of the second Test in Adelaide. While Clarke’s bat slaughtered the Proteas attack, the Aussie bowlers led by the hard-working Peter Siddle, kept the Proteas batsmen on a knife’s edge.
On the final day, survival was nothing but a dream, let alone winning the Test match. The cream of South Africa’s batting line-up kept on tumbling and it was left to Faf – an unknown figure at that time, to script one of the most outstanding fightbacks in the history of Test cricket to deny Australia a win which was a surety since the first ball was bowled on day 5.
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du Plessis batted for seven hours and 46 minutes, in 34-celsius degrees heat and high humidity, with five different partners – one of whom could barely run – and injected extreme exhaustion among the Australian bowlers to salvage an extraordinary draw from the jaws of defeat. His herculean knock rejuvenated South Africa, who ended the tour in style by beating Australia for the second consecutive time.
Faf returned to Australia four years later with the aim to maintain the outstanding record of the Proteas Down Under. With the passage of time, he has proven to become the backbone of South Africa’s batting line-up and a lot depended on his batting and temperament; firstly, he was the stand-in captain of the side and secondly, he would have to challenge the might of the Aussies without AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.
Both Australia and South Africa’s recent record in Test cricket has not been great. Both teams have experienced some nightmarish outcomes at home and abroad, for which, a lot of character was needed from the captains of the respective teams to instil motivation and confidence among his players.
While Steve Smith failed to live up to the expectations, the Proteas captain led his men brilliantly, defying all the odds to nail Australia.
The world had experienced Faf’s captaincy abilities, but his bat was yet to bloom flowers.
While the atmosphere in the South African camp was ecstatic after the rout at Hobart, world cricket was jolted when the South African captain was accused of ball-tampering and was fined his entire match fee from the Hobart Test. This triggered enormous criticism from a section of the Australian press and an ugly tussle between South African security and a journalist at Adelaide airport made matters even worse.
The day-night Test match at Adelaide was a dead-rubber, but it became one of the most anticipated Test matches of this year. The world awaited to watch how the Proteas could cope with such pressure and how du Plessis, the villain in the Australian public’s eyes, responds in front of the crowd, who were expected to be harsh, vociferous and at times, ugly.
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood swung the ball and Hazlewood’s length was immaculate and posed a big threat for the South African middle-order. Elgar, Hashim Amla and Duminy melted quickly and then entered Faf du Plessis.
His entry was not greeted warmly, with boos ringing around the ground; he was not a welcome guest but a villain who should not have featured in South Australia.
Faf’s partner at the other end was Stephen Cook, who had been in a terrible lean-patch throughout the series and it was left to the skipper again to guide the ship through the troubled waters.
Firstly, he needed to marshall Cook and calm him down to help stitch a partnership and arrest a collapse and secondly, he needed to blow away the demons which haunted him in the past few days.
Cook started to settle while the early part of the South African captain’s innings at the crease was scratchy. Jackson Bird’s length found the edge which fell short of slip cordon and Starc’s short-ball damaged his eardrums and when he returned the ball to the bowler, the crowd booed again.
The hostility of the crowd began to increase, Faf gradually dished out his best.
He mixed caution with aggression. He targeted the onside field and flicked in style to fetch boundaries in a quick fashion. As soon as Nathan Lyon was introduced, he curbed his attacking instincts and slowed down. He kept rotating the strike rather than trapping himself into a shell. At the other end, Cook discovered his scoring mojo and supported his skipper very well to stitch a 51-run partnership for the fourth wicket.
As soon as Cook was dismissed, the South African innings started to lose its way and yet again, du Plessis stepped up to keep South Africa afloat.
Faf’s timing was delightful. The shots he executed were exquisitely timed rather than being powerful. He hardly went hard at the ball and timed them wonderfully on both sides of the wicket. Even when he was needed to play Hazlewood on the backfoot, his ability to middle the ball perfectly allowed him to drive on the front foot. Some of his drives were of high quality while his fierce cut shots showed a glimpse of the anger that had built up due to recent events.
Du Plessis kept on losing partners, but in Kyle Abbott he discovered a stable batsman who provided the perfect foil. 54 runs were added for the eighth wicket and when Abbott was dismissed, Faf was two runs away from glory.
In the next over, he paddle-swept Lyon for two runs and ran towards the River Bank stand to celebrate his epic ton. He had given a mighty blow to the face of the hostile crowd with a sucker-punch and applause from the Adelaide crowd drowned out the hostile booing from one section of the crowd.
Only time will tell how effective his hundred will be for South Africa, but he has conveyed a message to the world that pressure always brings out the best in him and he is one of those fighters who relishes big occasions and uphill tasks.
It was on this ground four years ago that he announced his arrival with a fighting knock and four years later, he made Adelaide his own with another gallant knock.
Without a doubt, he is the darling of Adelaide Oval.