Faf du Plessis is under no illusion why he will inherit Jacques Kallis’ No. 4 spot in SA’s batting line-up in next month’s test series against Australia.
His promotion, Du Plessis suggested yesterday, had less to do with technique, skill, or even good, old-fashioned talent and more to do with default.
“It was probably between me and JP (Duminy), but he’s settled at No. 6 and I’ve batted at No. 4 a lot in first-class cricket,” Du Plessis said.
“AB (de Villiers) was another possibility, but it’s too much to ask him to keep wicket and bat at No. 4.
“That doesn’t leave a lot of players to do the job. They are big shoes to step into, but I suppose it was inevitable.”
But Du Plessis’ modesty can’t hide the fact that he is already an experienced No. 4. He has batted there 43 times in his 143 first-class innings – more than in any of the other six places he has filled.
His average of 34.82 as a No. 4 is significantly lower than the 44.65 he has reached in 32 innings as a No. 5 as well as his mark of 55.29 in 20 trips to the crease at No. 6. However, in Du Plessis’ most recent innings at No. 4, in the first test against India at the Wanderers last month – when Kallis was moved to No. 5 to give him time to recover from bowling more overs than usual – he scored a fluent 134.
“Any top order batsman starts at six or seven in a test line-up and then earns his stripes and moves up the order,” Du Plessis said. “It helps that I’ve proved to myself that I can do it; it suits my style of batting.
“My best innings for SA have come when I have had the opportunity to bat for long periods.”
The longest, so far, has been the almost eight hours Du Plessis spent defying the Australian attack on his debut in Adelaide in November to score an undefeated 110 and save the second test. It was an innings of many facets, but the biggest of them was composure.
“I was talking to (SA coach) Russell (Domingo) about this and he said that’s my blueprint as a player – it looks like I’m in control,” Du Plessis said.
“It’s very important, when you’re batting at No. 3 or 4, not to look loose or as if you’re playing frantically. Hashim (Amla) is brilliant at doing that, and Jacques was, too.”
Du Plessis said he has had to build that quality into his game: “Two years ago, I would have said I was a more attacking player.”
What was it like batting at No. 4 at the highest level, compared to other positions?
“It’s wonderful,” Boeta Dippenaar, who did the job himself in five of his 62 test innings, said yesterday.
“Even if your team loses two wickets in the first hour, you’re probably still going to be batting against a ball around 15 overs old; so it’s not quite new. Also, you get a chance to assess the pitch and conditions properly before you bat.”
Dippenaar said Du Plessis was “the logical choice” to succeed Kallis. “Theoretically, No. 4 is the place for your best batsman. Our best batsman is AB, but he can’t bat at No. 4 if he is keeping wicket.
“You also can’t drop Hashim down the order, not when he is batting at No. 3 and averaging more than 50, and JP hasn’t found his feet in test cricket as well as Faf has.”