Despite success, captain Faftastic’s job not safe

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TELFORD VICE, Hobart

PERFORMANCE reviews are the bane of every working stiff’s life, wastes of time that are forgotten almost as soon as they’re completed.

But, were Faf du Plessis to have to put up with one of these irrelevancies today, he might enjoy the experience.

One-day series against Australia? Won it 5-0.

Test series in Australia? Won it 2-0, and there’s a chance to make it 3-0.

Leadership along the way? Apparently effortless.

Like classy wicketkeeping and umpiring, Du Plessis’ captaincy is deceptively low key and barely noticeable.

Decisions don’t need on-field committee meetings, and if there is any angst out there it doesn’t show.

Rather, Du Plessis’ reaction to rising tension has, so far, been the smile of the competitor relishing the challenge.

About all there is against Du Plessis is footage of him during the second test at Bellerive Oval in Hobart polishing the ball using a finger taken directly from his mouth – in which a round white object, possibly a mint or sweet, is clearly visible.

Employing sugary sweets to enhance or protect the ball’s shine is a decades old trick that is in a grey area of cricket’s laws.

In terms of law 42.3 players are allowed to apply naturally produced bodily substances like sweat or saliva to the ball but they may not use artificial aids.

Clearly, sugary sweets are artificial. Just as clearly, players’ saliva would have to be tested before the start of play in every match and after every interval if the law was to be properly observed.

The match officials had 18 hours after the match to take action, and they haven’t.

Which leaves the matter in the hands of the International Cricket Council (ICC) or Cricket Australia.

South African team management said late on Wednesday the ICC had not “raised any concerns with us”. 

When England did something similar during the 2005 Ashes series no-one got into trouble. 

Besides, the Australians are acutely aware of not making excuses for their dismal performance.

It’s the poms who whinge, remember, not the Aussies.

All good, then. Thank you, captain Faftastic – your job is safe.

Except that it isn’t. You might say Du Plessis is in danger of being elbowed out.

Du Plessis, South Africa’s appointed T20 captain, has led them in those two rubbers against Australia only because AB de Villiers is at home recovering from elbow surgery.

And when De Villiers returns to action, probably in South Africa’s test series against Sri Lanka that starts at St George’s Park on December 26, he will also be back in charge.

“We’re happy with Faf as our current stand-in,” selection convenor Linda Zondi said in Hobart on Wednesday.

“(But) at the moment that’s our position – AB is still the captain.”

Quite how the selectors are going to fit even a player as gifted as De Villiers into a team that is performing above and beyond every expectation is a tall enough order.

More than that, justifying taking the captaincy from Du Plessis, who is clearly more comfortable at the helm than either De Villiers or his predecessor, Hashim Amla, is going to take some doing.

“We will cross that bridge when we get there,” Zondi said.

“Faf has done a very good job. It was an easy process for us when the decision was made because he was already the T20 captain. So it was a continuation.

“We are excited to have him as a leader. It just gives us more options. And we have other guys – Hashim Amla also brings experience.”

Appointing the captain is a function of Cricket South Africa’s board and not the selectors, although it is difficult to believe Zondi and his panel would not be consulted – particularly as they have proved themselves to have their fingers on the pulse of what the national team needs to be successful.

But it seems the board are happy to leave this ball in Zondi’s court, at least for now.

“We don’t feel the need to add any more on this issue as our convenor of selectors … has adequately addressed this topic,” media and communications head Altaaf Kazi said in an email exchange on Wednesday.

Such issues are trivial compared to the deep hole Australia are in after South Africa inflicted their fifth consecutive test loss in Hobart on Tuesday.

The first casualty in that unfolding drama happened on Wednesday when Rod Marsh resigned as selection chair – hours after CA executive James Sutherland assured the media that Marsh would be allowed to see out his contract.

But South Africa’s captaincy question will soon be asked, and need to be answered.

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