The South African recruit of Chennai Super Kings, Francois du Plessis or ‘Faf’ has finally joined the IPL bandwagon milking to the fullest the opportunity presented to him. He was included into CSK’s playing XI in the absence of marquee Australian batsman, Michael Hussey who is currently on national duty.
Opening the innings is something that du Plessis hasn’t done before. He is a middle-order batsman. However, his reputation of being a big hitter and the unavailability of a spot in the middle meant the only place he could bat was at the top along with Murali Vijay.
Plessis comes from the same educational background as his ODI captain AB de Villiers. They studied in the same class and started playing cricket at the same time and even got picked up by the same talent scout. The playing careers of the two has however, taken a different course. While the former is still trying to cement a permanent place in the national squad, the latter has reached the pinnacle.
At 23, du Plessis signed a six-month contract with Lancashire in 2008 as a Kolpak player. Kolpak deal was an opportunity for cricketers like Plessis that enabled them to fulfill the dream of playing international cricket even if it meant for a different country. The reason was the tough selection criteria to get into the Proteas’ squad, apparently, owing to quotas for coloured players. Unlike his other countrymen, who had entered in such deals, he had planned to use it as a platform to further develop his skills and also use it as a launch pad to get selected for the national team.
During his county stint, Plessis improved his game against spinners as back home conditions aren’t conducive for spin bowling.
"In South Africa, it's nice to face spinners because it generally doesn't turn a lot and doesn't get that slow. In England, there is more cricket played on the wickets and they deteriorate more," he told a leading cricket website.
Besides being a batsman, Plessis adds value with his part time leg spinners and electric fielding. He gave a glimpse of his ability with the ball during the final of MiWay T20 challenge against Lions earlier this month. His four wickets were crucial in leading his team, Titans, to the title win.
Not content with his growing reputation in limited overs format, Plessis wanted to give the national selectors something to think about, before they ‘pigeon-holed’ him as a one-day player. In December 2011, while chasing a target of 336 against Knights in Bloemfontein, Plessis scored 153 in his first four-day game in over a year. The lights betrayed his team as the umpires decided to call off the game when they were on 303/6. In a column for a website, he expressed his satisfaction after the knock that got them a crucial first innings lead.
“The game against the Knights was incredibly satisfying on many levels… Just looking back at my knock in the first innings, it was even more satisfying, as I came in with us at 144/4 and not exactly well set for a big score. On top of that, the ball was still doing something and I really needed to knuckle down,” he wrote in his column for supersport.com.
Besides, Plessis has played in 75 first class matches, so he is quite familiar with the vagaries of the longer format of the game.
However, his inclusion in the ODI squad for the World Cup wasn’t a fruitful one as he had an ordinary outing in the subcontinent scoring 158 runs in seven matches.
So far, in 21 ODIs, he has scored 536 runs at an average of 31.52.
In January 2011, IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings bought him for USD 120,000 (six times his base price). The absence of Mike Hussey from the first half of the IPL 2012 season meant that Faf was included in the playing XI for Chennai. He ran himself out early in the first match against Mumbai while failing to hear his partner’s call. It was his first experience of the Indian crowd and their soaring decibel levels. However, his scores of 39 against Deccan, 15 against Delhi and then a match winning knock of 71 that set his team up to an incredible run chase against Bangalore as an opener, speaks enough of his talent.
There is no doubt that du Plessis has the maturity and temperament to compete at the top level and with consistent performances he can certainly become a vital cog in the South African batting order.