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Faf du Plessis deserves to be remembered as someone who did it all

by Rohit Sankar 4 minute read

As much as Faf du Plessis is magazine cover material with his magnetic personality and raw charm, the cricketer in him often hides in the inner pages, denied of the appreciation he truly deserves, writes Rohit Sankar.

‘Faf’ulous! The screen lit up as Faf du Plessis hit Lockie Ferguson over long-off for a six that barely crossed the ropes. In a world where sixes landing on the tarred road outside is norm, du Plessis’ not-entirely-well-timed loft that got him to his sixth fifty this IPL season hardly counts as attractive. What it did, though, is take the runs scored off Ferguson’s over, the 11th of the innings in the final of IPL 2021, to 17.

The New Zealand quick has been a large part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ remarkable turnaround in the season, taking 13 wickets in the UAE leg. He was carted around for 56 runs in the final by CSK — the most he has ever conceded in a T20 game — 40 off which came from du Plessis alone while facing 16 balls from him.

Before the final, Ferguson was deemed to be a huge threat to CSK’s batting primarily because of the extra pace he possesses and bounce he extracts, weapons that most of CSK’s batters aren’t comfortable deflecting. Not du Plessis, though. He is arguably Chennai’s best player of pace bowling, especially high pace, and it was pertinent for CSK’s batting success that du Plessis won over this match-up. He did so emphatically, paving the way for a remarkable title win for Chennai.

A 59-ball 85, the Player of the Match award in the final and coming from nowhere to ending within two runs of becoming the leading run-scorer in the season. Enough headline material in there you’d think. Not in the IPL, though. Definitely not (you see the irony, don’t you?) at CSK.

Moments after he won the Player of the Match after an incredible knock that paved the way for a title win in arguably the greatest T20 competition there ever is, du Plessis was unabashedly forgotten. His words were easily erased by the roar of spectators rooting for MS Dhoni to take up the mic and own the night. Never one to disappoint his fans, Dhoni cheekily corrected Harsha Bhogle’s comments that he “should be proud of the legacy he has left behind” by stating that “he still hasn’t left it behind”. Dhoni’s comments sparked off… sorry, where were we?

That right there, partly sums up du Plessis’ season, and career itself. The exciting promise of Ruturaj Gaikwad, the eye-catching H1 quotes by MS Dhoni and the ridiculous, never-ending tale of the Dad’s Army turning up to win another title all but pushed du Plessis into the background. That he finished just two runs behind Gaikwad, while averaging nearly the same and striking at a better rate than him might surprise a few.

It’s a familiar story for du Plessis, though, who was forever in the shadows of his childhood mate and friend, AB de Villiers for South Africa. While de Villiers was hailed as a modern day limited-overs great, a prodigy who rose rapidly through the ranks, du Plessis, a late bloomer, was never considered extraordinary. Effective and consistent were often the best he could hope for, while the double-edged ‘made the most of his talent’ tag also attached itself to him.

Yet, in the five-year period post the 2015 World Cup, du Plessis was one of the best players in the world in ODIs, clocking an average less than only three players (min 1,000 runs) – Ross Taylor, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Du Plessis also averaged in the mid-30s and struck at a rate of 140-plus for the Proteas in T20Is in that period.

Constantly adapting and evolving to team needs are du Plessis’ innate qualities and it shows in his remarkable growth as a T20 batter in recent years. Since 2020, du Plessis is among the top 15 run getters in all T20 cricket the world over, averaging 38 and striking at a rate of 137.2. He has scored runs in South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and India in this time frame while going through multiple concussion episodes. Only two players in the list above him have played fewer matches than him, underlining his consistency in a fickle format.

Few teams understand T20 cricket as well as Chennai Super Kings do. Nine out of 14 seasons (of which they played in only 12), CSK have made the final of the IPL. Only once did they not make it the play-offs itself. That CSK backed him over an entire decade is certainly something that should go into the South African’s resume, right next to where he mentions that the national team chose to drop him for a World Cup that begins two days later in the very same country in the very same format where he made a match-defining contribution in the final.

But for now, can we just look past the frill and frolic that comes with the IPL, and especially CSK and South Africa, and appreciate the truly magnificent cricketer that Faf du Plessis is?

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