When I think of the iconic British intelligence agent James Bond, a person in the cricketing fraternity who reminds me of this great character is the ex-Protea captain, Francois du Plessis aka Faf du Plessis.
A chiselled physique & good looks matched with the resilience, grit, tact and determination to conquer all odds, as one would see in James Bond, are certainly akin to du Plessis too.
However, owing to the new immigration policies at the time in 2010, Faf Du Plessis as he if fondly known, couldn’t serve the Kolpak deal for long and returned to the domestic scene earlier than expected.
Back in South Africa, he accumulated plenty of runs for his domestic franchise, the Tshwane based Titans and as a result made his ODI debut for the Proteas in early 2011 against India, scoring half a ton albeit in a losing cause.
With an inspiring performance in the inbound series against India and the need to fill the void in the middle order, the Protea coach at the time Corrie Van Zyl and the management alike, got du Plessis on the plane to the subcontinent for the 2011 World Cup.
Scoring a total of 159 runs in the tournament, Faf Du Plessis helped the Proteas beat India in a group game while chasing a mammoth 296.
What’s more, his consistency soon earned him a test debut against the mighty Australians in 2012 at Adelaide, where he put up a colossal batting effort, being at the crease for a massive seven and a half hours to make a gritty 110, earning the Proteas a much-needed draw.
The resilience he showed while engaging in this gigantic effort, was not only appreciated by the South African faithful but fans across the globe. South Africa, as a result went on to win the series 1 nil.
With his career graph soaring, soon he would become immovable in the test line up and a part of the big 3 in South African cricket, also comprising of Hashim Amla and A.B. de Villiers.
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This mantle was given to the 3 icons, post the retirement of stalwarts Smith, Kallis and Boucher.
Captaincy was also a natural trait for du Plessis having skippered teams at school and provincial level.
Well, the Proteas job wasn’t far when Faf began leading the Southern African giants in T20 cricket, with his first endeavour, the 2014 World Cup where they reached the semis.
The test job also in time would be Faf’s to take, after the Proteas had a dismal inbound tour of England in the summer of 2015-16, with the then captain Hashim Amla relinquishing the role.
With winning series in Australia and New Zealand, du Plessis cemented his legacy as the test captain.
What’s more under his astute leadership the Proteas also beat India, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home.
His ODI captaincy exploits are also worthy of a mention, with the Proteas beating Australia 5 nil at home in 2016 and also conquering them 2-1 on the away tour in 2018.
With consistent wins over the Australians, one could safely say that Faf had more than got their measure.
To add to the Australian pursuits, du Plessis also achieved series wins over Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home in ODIs.
After the late Hansie Cronje and ex captain Graeme Smith, du Plessis was truly a boon when it came to captaincy for South Africa.
Fairy tales always have a reality check and as the great Isaac Newton once said ‘what goes up, must come down’, well that’s exactly what happened with Faf Du Plessis as captain when the Proteas finished a lowly 7th in the recently concluded 2019 ODI World Cup.
His captaincy post the World Cup continued to go downhill, when South Africa lost an outbound series to India and an inbound series to England.
Well, for me, du Plessis had passed his time as the Protea skipper and it was only fair he relinquished the role after the English disaster in 2019-20.
Having said this, du Plessis should be always remembered as one of the best players and captains to represent South Africa with the resilient powerhouse amassing more than 9,000 runs in all forms of the game.
Truth be told, while his form and captaincy might have dwindled at times, the class of the man is permanent.
A salute to the James Bond of cricket and a happy 36th.