Why Faf du Plessis is a better skipper than AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla
Despite boasting highly talented players at their disposal, South Africa have more often than not underwhelmed as a cricket powerhouse on the big occasions. Their failure at successive World Cups have been highly documented and they have struggled to shake off the ‘chokers’ tag that has been attributed to them with time.
The Proteas have also been blessed with quite a few skippers who knew the game inside out, not least of all Graeme Smith, who was earmarked as a future skipper at a young age and went on to fulfill the role with immense dignity at the highest level of the game. His sudden retirement did leave a gaping hole in South Africa’s cricket future more as a captain than as an opener with the selectors not quite ready with their plan for a successor just yet.
With the already-packed international calendar only becoming more congested with the advent of T20 cricket, the South African selectors knew that handing over the responsibility in all three formats to one person would prove too hectic to handle.
However, unlike other nations who had one skipper for the Test format and another for the shorter formats of the game, South Africa had Hashim Amla named as Test skipper while AB de Villiers was named ODI skipper and Faf du Plessis the T20 skipper, following AB’s decision to step down from captaincy in the shortest format of the game.
The transition looked smooth at first with the Proteas continuing to achieve results in all three formats. However, the heartbreaking loss to New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and the 3-0 humbling at the hands of India in the four-match Test series in 2015 showed that there was a lot left to be desired as far as leadership was concerned at the top for South Africa.
Amla and De Villiers – World-class players yes, but captaincy?
There is no doubting the world-class abilities of Amla and de Villiers with the bat, but they have looked far from comfortable in their role as team skipper. Amla has always been a reluctant skipper having initially turned down the opportunity to lead the side before turning the corner post-Smith’s retirement before once again stepping down for good after tasting defeat against India and in the Test that followed against England.
De Villiers, on the other hand, has always expressed his willingness to take on the responsibility and not surprisingly held his hand up when Amla decided enough was enough. But question marks remain as to how well he has handled his troops. While the past draws up many incidents where de Villiers’ intuitiveness has been left wanting, his task is only going to get tougher with the introduction of the coloured-quota system for team selection.
His disappointment at not being able to field Kyle Abbott in the playing eleven instead of Vernon Philander in the 2015 World Cup semi-final due to the selectors’ insistence was plain obvious but it was not something that de Villiers necessarily confronted in a strong enough manner like when du Plessis did when asked about Amla’s non-inclusion for the second match in the recently-concluded ODI series against Australia despite the veteran batsman recovering from illness which had ruled him out of the opening match.
Du Plessis - a natural leader
Like Smith, Du Plessis was always destined to be a leader with his local side Titans earmarking him as long-serving skipper Pierre Joubert’s successor at a very young age. Just as the case in international cricket where Du Plessis the batsman has been overshadowed by the brilliance of Amla and De Villiers, it was the likes of Rilee Rossouw and Dean Elgar who attracted much more attention with their run-scoring exploits in the domestic circuit.
By Joubert’s own admission, he was surprised by how well Du Plessis developed as a cricketer but not much so with how he went on to handle the responsibilities of captaining the side.
"At school, Faf was always the leader," Joubert said. "He took longer to develop from the superstar school kid, but as a captain, he was a natural and people would follow him. He had a wonderful cricket brain."
Du Plessis’ hard work and determination, however, meant that he not only managed to break into the national team ahead of his contemporaries but he also quickly established him as a vital cog in the side with his consistent performances. While de Villiers draws most of the attention with his aggressive strokeplay, Du Plessis has been playing the supporting role without any fuss and that’s what makes him apt as a skipper as well.
Standing in for the injured de Villiers, du Plessis led South Africa to a historic 5-0 whitewash against the reigning World champions Australia and while the media and fans applauded him for the way he led the side, the 32-year-old tried to downplay his role in the victory claiming that it was down to some terrific performances from his players. He has always strived to take the game to the opposition unlike de Villiers who seems more cautious and at times, even hesitant, in his approach.
Statistics say it all
It is not always advisable to go by the numbers, but in the case of South African cricket and their skippers, the statistics throw light into how du Plessis has done a better job than Amla and de Villiers when it comes to leading the side. He has a better win percentage in all three formats of the game and more often than not, it has been at times like the recent series against Australia when the Proteas were missing someone like AB de Villiers.
|AB de Villiers||2016-2016||2||1||1||0||50|
|Faf du Plessis||2016-2016||2||1||0||1||50|
|AB de Villiers||2012-2016||87||49||33||1/4||59.63|
|Faf du Plessis||2013-2016||9||8||1||1||88.88|
|AB de Villiers||2012-2015||15||7||7||1||50|
|Faf du Plessis||2012-2016||31||18||13||0||58.06|
The ODI series against Australia would have made the South African selectors sit up and take notice of du Plessis’ credentials as a skipper in the long run and with the upcoming Test series against Steven Smith’s side Down Under it will be interesting to see the captaincy scenario once de Villiers makes his return from injury, especially if South Africa manage to win for a third successive time in the Test format in Australia.
With the transformation policy going to create controversies galore going ahead, one wonders whether de Villiers will be mentally strong enough to take on the issue or like in the past, shy away from tackling the tough situations front on. Du Plessis, on the other hand, looks both mentally and physically in a better shape to handle the responsibilities and there is no reason why he can’t do the job in all three formats of the game on a permanent basis.