There could possibly be nothing more hurtful when despite having given everything to your nation, you are still mired by uncertainty regarding your immediate future. More so when you are a certain Francois du Plessis, whose imminent cricketing future is perhaps just as important a subject of discussion as his cricketing past.
Born to challenges soon as he walked down the crease in the gam, Faf soldiered on in 2012 to strike a widely-applauded 110 against the Australians, rescuing his team to an unlikely draw against a side that featured great names in Ponting, Johnson, Siddle, and Hilefenhaus.
During his 466-minute stay at the crease, he displayed concentration and patience in equal measure, the likes of which one had grown accustomed to seeing, first in Kallis, and later, in Amla.
Around seven months ago, Faf du Plessis- who has against his name no fewer than 11,100 international runs, muscled by 23 centuries and 66 fifties- struck a remarkable score of 199 against Sri Lanka. This would be painfully short of what would’ve been his only Test double ton, albeit coming against an opponent versus whom he’s struck nearly a fifth of his international runs (874 in Tests alone).
In an age where you are already past your best and where your reflexes no longer advocate your ambition, we saw Faf du Plessis at his peak aged 36.
That he raised his bat in front of home crowds was just as heartwarmingly beautiful as would be that sight wherein he gets to raise his willow to mark a fifty in the forthcoming T20 World Cup 2021.
Though, for that his participation for his side is foremost necessary, something that rests in the hands of those whose actions, of late, have been seen as a sign of interference instead of remedial action for a cricket team the world acknowledges for being a remarkable force of nature.
That said, for the better part of his life, what Faf du Plessis came to battle weren’t bowlers of the class and repute of Bumrah, Shami, Ashwin, Herath, Roach, Holder, Wagner, Mustafizur, Boult or Southee alone; for he watched, much like countless spectators the sight of one Protean legend, after another, walking into the sunset.
With no comfort of settling in amid a pantheon of legends around whom he scored his first runs, nearly half of Faf du Plessis’ career witnessed one generation walking into the sunset to make way for another, leaving him as the lone protector of South Africa’s integrity, much like the leader of a clan or a lion in charge of a pride.
How grueling might have been the sight of witnessing Kallis, followed by de Villiers, Steyn, Morkel, Tahir, and ultimately, Philander calling it time on a career having blossomed around their glorious presence?
And that’s precisely where the class of a Faf du Plessis rests, the man who cleared the litmus test of patience and forebearance.
Instead of lamenting the sheer dearth of pure match-winning experiencing, Faf stood up and oversaw a period of difficult transformation, having no other than Elgar and de Kock as his side as the only experienced campaigners.
Taking Rabada under his wing, always advocating a chance for Phelukwayo, often forging vital stands with Bavuma and being around- when he too could have stepped back into the commercial comfort of purely playing T20 leagues- when two of the finest fast bowling talents in Nortje and Pretorius were being inducted, Faf took a different route to greatness.
To a country that prides itself in being about a collective, in representing unity despite the massive racist divide so often making its presence felt in veils and guises, Faf du Plessis played the unifier for a South Africa that, in the past half a decade, became increasingly drawn to the quota system not so much about pure merit. Though, the big runs never stepped flowing from the bat.
Even to this day, where there is no AB on the pitch, and still, there is in the hearts and minds of an audience captivating by the great genius, little is spared to factor in Faf’s achievements.
And there’ve been aplenty, which sadly run the risk of being overshadowed the same way a Chanderpaul went less-noticed in the Lara-era and Dravid went about quietly doing his game with all the credit often belonging to Tendulkar.
Faf would never mind in not being recounted for scoring the highest-ever individual ODI score for a South African post the iconic Kirsten’s 188 vs UAE (1996 World Cup).
Nor would Faf du Plessis- the iron will that defines South African persistence- dread the fact that all the world cares about, very much to this day, is the Fab Four, when his achievements, particularly, in white-ball cricket warrant equal measure as what’s extended to a Kohli, Smith or Williamson.
From 2014 onwards, there’s never been a single calendar year in ODI cricket where Faf didn’t average over 48. Did you note? In his last three calendar years of playing 50-over cricket, Faf averaged north of 62! How many noted?
Moreover, just how much credit; how many salutations were penned for Faf when, aged 35, he managed to score 814 in ODIs, including the only century scored by a South African in a World Cup.
Talk about a captain showing how to lead by an example and you’ll find du Plessis’ famous model-like mugshot against a template of excellence in perpetuity.
Yet, while the world has many who receive their due, there are also some who go about dispelling doubts that the unsung heroes silently crave for attention. No, they do not; men like Faf go about doing their job for it’s the only way they know how to lead their lives.
No one has, at least, to this date, penned an article simply on the fact that Faf has also achieved a Dravid-esque peak in his career: Faf is the first and thus far, only batsman since his debut (2011-12 season) to have batted in 100 international innings without getting dismissed for a duck.
For it’s easy to praise those who are universally liked and a bit hard to delve into the depth of the unsung narrative- isn’t it?
But one thing is certain, du Plessis will always feature on the list of the purist who admires discipline and consistency as the true pivots of cricketing greatness in this ruthlessly tiring modern era.
For all that and more, for the big hits powering which his biceps came to the fore as did his handsome, very Joaquin Phoenix-like face, and even to the lost chances where he could’ve done more, Faf’s journey has been that of a sailor who steadied the ship often during most violent tides.
And in that rests his glory, beyond numbers and mega hits of the bat. Happy 37th, people’s champion!