TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
QUINTON de Kock and AB de Villiers are the shimmering stars of SA’s batting line-up and Hashim Amla will regain that status as soon as he puts his temporary troubles in India behind him.
But stars can only shine at their brightest if there is a black hole nearby enough to absorb all competing light and far enough removed not to get in the way of all that shimmering.
In SA’s line-up, Faf du Plessis is that black hole; the place where the opposition’s energy goes to die and where the time and space equation is softly, slowly tilted in SA’s favour.
His record in the one-day series in India that SA won in epic style in Mumbai on Sunday, when they totalled 438/4 and won by 214 runs, proves the point.
Du Plessis was the constant in the first three games, passing 50 every time and sharing two half-century stands and a century partnership.
In the fourth match he was sawn off for 17 by a poor decision – and slapped with a fine when he, foolishly, pointed out the umpire’s error.
But on Sunday, when Du Plessis scored one of the three centuries that glittered in SA’s firmament, his role in the champagne super nova that the innings became was incandescently illuminated.
Quinton de Kock in full flow is a frightening picture of what happens when the push of orthodoxy meets the shove of ambition. AB de Villiers is a flurry with no fury, all sweetness and no noticeable science, a mad miracle at the crease.
This we know, and we knew it again on Sunday when they scored their second and third hundreds of the series.
And then there was Faf.
“He didn’t get enough credit for his knock,” De Villiers said. “He came in in a very difficult situation in the middle of the innings where India’s spinners started dominating.
“He controlled the innings exceptionally well and allowed myself and Quinton to just free up – we scored at better than a run-a-ball – and that was because of Faf’s stability at the other end.”
The intense heat and humidity in Mumbai on Sunday was no friend to anyone who was out in the middle: MS Dhoni spent most of his time behind the stumps wearing sunglasses, Virat Kohli munched on what looked like a chocolate bar to keep his energy up while he patrolled the field, and De Kock swapped his batting helmet for a cap.
“Faf was getting really tired and to show that kind of determination to be the anchor for our batting line-up was incredible,” De Villiers said. “The knock he played was the most important of the three.”
High praise but every word of it deserved. Du Plessis doubled up with cramp after almost every ball he faced during the latter stages of his innings before, his job done, he retired hurt.
And well he might have. De Kock was out there for two hours and De Villiers for seven minutes more than an hour-and-a-half. Du Plessis? Two minutes short of three hours.
And he held it together for all that time to score the century that his captain acknowledged was the tipping point of SA’s triumph.
Then again, three hours is nothing in the life of a black hole.