TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
FAF du Plessis should have been made SA’s test captain when Hashim Amla got the job. And when AB de Villiers cracked the nod after Amla quit halfway through the series against England last season.
Why? Because Du Plessis is the most experienced and assured leader SA have. So the fact that he will lead SA in two tests against New Zealand this month is cause for relief and celebration.
How, despite having had two bites at the cherry, he did not land the position after Graeme Smith retired in March 2014 would seem to have more to do with keeping the right people happy, in both instances, than with good cricket sense.
Du Plessis has captained provincial under-19 and academy teams, the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, SA A, SA in three one-day internationals and, since December 2012, SA’s T20 side.
All told, and starting from his under-19 days, he has led teams in 73 matches of which they have won 40 and lost 29.
Du Plessis’ first-class captaincy amounts to two home matches for SA A against Sri Lanka in July 2012. The home side won the first by an innings, in which he scored 144, and drew the second.
That’s not a lot to go on. But none of the other available candidates have a stronger claim.
Dean Elgar? Captained in 40 matches – six of them first-class – won 18, lost 16.
Amla? Sixty matches as captain, won 22, lost 26. Twenty-three of them were first-class.
But it’s as difficult to believe Amla was not asked to step into the breach created by De Villiers’ injury as it is to think he would have accepted a role he relinquished only seven months ago.
Stephen Cook? He has 50 first-class captaincies among his 116 games at the helm. But he is freshly arrived at the highest level.
Dale Steyn? Wonderfully subversive thought. But let’s be serious.
So Du Plessis it is. Well done suits.
But Du Plessis’ tenure is likely to end after those two matches: he is only in the saddle because De Villiers has injured an elbow.
Worse, the new skipper will have to get by without cricket’s most dangerous and dominant batsman, De Villiers, and without SA’s most dependable bowler last season, Morne Morkel.
De Villiers has usurped Amla and Dale Steyn as the jewel in SA’s crown, a status he deserves for all but re-inventing batting in his own image.
A SA team without him should shiver the timbers of every cricketminded South African. He is a great of the age. In fact, of any age.
After seasons strewn with doubt about everything from his temperament to his aggression to his ability to know when he has landed at least a smidgen of his large left boot behind the bowling crease, Morkel bloomed big and beautiful to take 29 wickets at 28.62 in 10 tests since January 2015.
And how SA needed him to, what with Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander crocked for much of last season and Kagiso Rabada, however successful, still wet behind his outrageously talented ears.
Then there’s Du Plessis’ own recent form, a run of 15 completed test innings in which he has scored 317 runs at 21.13 – 86 of them in a single innings.
Can it be an accident that his spell in the doldrums has dovetailed with being repeatedly overlooked for the test captaincy?
Who can say. But now the window has opened for Du Plessis to change all that, and more. It’s creaked ajar just a crack, but that’s better than it being shut.
Good luck, Faf. This reporter knows he is not alone in hoping like hell that you shake up the world.