Faf du Plessis has been a warhorse for the Proteas since his arrival into the national team.
In his debut Test innings he battled hard as South Africa scrapped past the final day in Adelaide to earn a vital draw against Australia. That innings alone gave him the nickname ‘The Marathon Man’.
Du Plessis went onto play similar knocks to the one he played in Adelaide, with South Africa surviving a final-day battle against India in Johannesburg in 2013. His consistency in the national team was second only to his boyhood friend AB de Villiers.
Despite emerging as a shrewd tactician and a vital cog in the batting order, he never got the fanfare he deserved. Growing up in the shadows of Jacques Kallis, and De Villiers, Du Plessis turned out to be a reliable asset for the Proteas. However, as time passes, the tide changes.
The year 2019 was in many ways a disaster for the Proteas and du Plessis himself. It started with a shocking defeat to Sri Lanka in the Test series at home, which they lost 2-0. Pressure piled on the former South Africa captain as his team surrendered their World Cup campaign early on, picking just three points from their first four games. Du Plessis himself looked disenchanted as a captain, something which was rather unusual.
The path to redemption was not so easy either.
After a turbulent run in the World Cup, in which they finished seventh, they were up against India away. It was the same series that had ended South Africa’s Test juggernaut away from home four years earlier. Du Plessis’s men had a mountain to climb. More importantly, the team suffered from a lack of veterans, with Du Plessis being the only exception.
It was a disaster for the Proteas. They barely got off the mark in the series, as India decimated South Africa in all three matches. Criticism engulfed Du Plessis’s captaincy.
A man whose agile thinking had earned Proteas a dramatic Test series win in Australia seemed now to be a shadow of his former self. It seemed as though time had come to finish his career.
Cricket South Africa also decided to end Du Plessis’s captaincy. Wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock got the gig.
However, Du Plessis persisted.
Despite missing the 2019-20 season due to the pandemic, Du Plessis kept playing in several T20 leagues, including the IPL. He was one of Chennai’s top performers this season as well.
Finally, at Centurion, the time came for the old guard to take centre stage.
With South Africa losing two quick wickets, it seemed as if the inexperienced middle order would crumble. However, Du Plessis dismissed any such fears of a predicament.
First with Temba Bavuma and then with Wiaan Mulder, Du Plessis consolidated South Africa’s position before launching an onslaught against the visitors’ spinners.
A game that could have gone either way was fully turned in South Africa’s favour as Du Plessis blasted a career-best 199. While a double hundred would have been icing on the cake, South Africa would be rather grateful he did not retire last year.
A man who was struggling for runs, consistency and captaincy success finally came back into his groove. It was a great innings but, more importantly, an emphatic statement that he was here to stay.