Faf du Plessis isn’t a miracle worker. The last anyone heard, he hadn’t saved a bunch of twins from their fateful end by simply placing his hand on their forehead.
He is not endowed with the talent of pulling out rabbits from the hat.
When he comes out to bat, the traffic in Johannesburg doesn’t come to an absolute halt in awe.
Moreover, his appearance on the screen- despite his good looks and the lethal model-like frame sporting ripped curls- doesn’t increase TV viewership like how a Brian Lara special did or Tendulkar’s Desert Storm most certainly could even in today’s age, had it been live, in the moment.
On the contrary, Faf isn’t a cricketer underlined by pure, unsullied integrity. In 2016, in Australia, he courted controversy for ball-tampering. Twice. Thankfully there was no maelstrom when he sought clarifications from the ICC about whether eating gum on the field was legal or not.
But it is Faf du Plessis, who made a huge career decision to stick by South Africa when he could’ve easily made it to the Kolpak route.
He did so after a close conversation with friend and confidante, AB de Villiers.
Moreover, he took over the reigns of Protean captaincy when AB decided that it wasn’t his cup of tea.
Faf was one of the main players who took Rabada under his wings, going as far as actually kissing his cheeks to express undying love as the right-armer crushed Australia, circa 2016-17 tour.
To this day, we dread and retreat to remorse about the heart crushing loss South Africa endured to New Zealand in 2015, a game where we found Morkel on his feet, crying a river. That very game where someone like Steyn went for 76 off his 9 overs.
But none care to remember or perhaps make little of the fact that South Africa would not even have reached 281 of its runs had one man not scored 82 on his own.
His name? Not Abraham Benjamin de Villiers, but Francois Du Plessis.
In an age obsessed with numbers, where we remember the number of centuries Virat has struck in a winning cause, we probably underrated the number of minutes Faf du Plessis remained at the crease to save his embattled South Africa.
155, for your information. He lasted for 107 deliveries standing at an end like a fortification hard to breach.
That fateful evening, one which every Protea fan would allude to when asked what it means to be ‘heartbroken,’ there was one man who contained his emotions, a bit like how he doesn’t over-celebrate upon reaching a milestone or two.
Not Dale Steyn. Not Hashim Amla. But Faf du Plessis.
Interestingly, New Zealand were the very opponents that chewed South Africa in the previous world cup, the 2011 edition.
But even then, we remembered South Africa for being ‘chokers,’ given their unlikely and very surprising exit in the quarter-finals.
Little is reserved to appreciate the fact that the man with the second-highest runs in Proteas’ lowly 172 all-out was Faf du Plessis.
He fought on until the 43rd over.
It wasn’t his fault that Amla, Duminy, Smith couldn’t make runs that they should have.
It was his first year in international ODI cricket and Faf responded to a testing situation with a well-constructed 36, that came off just 43. On a forgettable Dhaka evening, Faf stuck to the crease for 70 odd minutes showing the composure with which he’d bailed out his team a year earlier in a draw versus the Aussies, Down Under, scoring 110 brave runs.
But what exactly did he get in return?
It’s hardly surprising when Indian star cricketers receive the same or their neighbours in Pakistan for such impassioned are the fans in the sub-continent.
They’d much rather choose cricket over life for the sport defines life for countless lives.
One distinctly remembers that with India crashing out of the 2007 World Cup, held in the West Indies following an upsetting loss to Bangladesh, there were uncharacteristic retorts levelled at the team.
Stone pelting a famous cricketer’s house is a common symptom of the aggrieved Indian fan.
But that the Protea fans issued death threats to Faf du Plessis, then playing his maiden world cup is absolutely unacceptable.
It’s also abnormal. Not fanboy speak but speaking with reasonable fairness.
It’s the sort of treatment you extend to a first-time English student, unaware of the stringent technicalities of grammar where mispronunciation of a sentence is met with extensive caning.
It wasn’t Faf alone who received death threats; his wife Imari was given death threats too.
“I received death threats after that (match). My wife received death threats. We turned on social media and we were blown away. It became very personal. There were some very offensive things said that I won’t repeat,” shared Faf shocking the world on May 18, 2021.
But what do we make of this?
Surely, it’s said and repeated to a point of it becoming a cliche that no cricketer is bigger than the game.
But then is the fan so shallow as to subject a humble servant of the game to such malicious treatment?
Not that it’s not been done before. The audiences in the Caribbean bayed for Lara’s blood following the 5-0 whitewash (v South Africa), forgetting conveniently that Lara could bat for himself not score others’ share of runs.
Then when the same Lara scored a 153*, soaring his team to a 1-wicket win, the same fans wielded placards that “our wounds are healed.”
Do incidences like the unjust threats given to Faf not tell us about the true fan culture.
That truth could well be that you are in the reckoning for as long as you are on the winning side?
Then whether you had a hand in contributing genuinely- the crowd doesn’t care.
Is cricket fanfare becoming much like mob-culture? What purpose does the troller actually achieve after putting someone down and ganging up against an individual?
Not that Faf would or should care too much. Akin to his big muscles, it appears, he has a big heart.
For he didn’t seem to care much when it was conveniently forgotten that in the 2019 World Cup the only century that came from the South African side was from his bat and that too against the mighty Aussies.
Not that it was lauded with the same grandeur every single Rohit Sharma or Chris Gayle ton is.
Our man is made of a different element.
Sporting cool weathers on his sleeves, he doesn’t believe in lip service or throwing expletives.
Some find solace in wielding the bat and creating magic with it. And whether or not those fans who issued Faf du Plessis death threats noted or cared to ignore, fact is- if there’s one Protea batsman who’s been creating sheer magic with the bat in ODIs in the past half a decade, it’s not AB de Villiers, who called it quits in 2018.
It’s Francois du Plessis.
Not once since 2015 up to 2019- has Faf’s batting average been under 48.
As a matter of fact, from 2017 until 2019- not once did the stylish right-hander score at under 60 in ODIs per year, bludgeoning 814 from just 17 outings in 2019, the year he last played an ODI.
But what were his haters doing then? Devising new ways to hurt the man who’s been an embodiment of true Protea fire?