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Faf du Plessis gave his all to South Africa – but he couldn’t take anymore

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It takes an astute individual to know how much to share with others, especially those they don’t know. Do you tell them about yourself, your hopes, your anxieties and your personal life? Or do you keep those things private and leave them to guess and Google their way around you?

Trust South Africa’s most charismatic captain, Faf du Plessis, to have usually known the answer. (Spoiler alert: it’s a bit of both.)

On debut, during his first press conference as an international player, du Plessis told the story of how his foot slipped out of his boot and he ended up tangled between shoelaces, his batting pads and the urgency of needing to get on to the park to avoid being timed out. He told it to a room full of mostly Australian media during a Test match South Africa were well behind in, and he told it with the refreshing honesty of someone new to the spotlight, who didn’t mind a bit of self-deprecation even if defeat was looming. Then he went on save the game and set South Africa up for a series win and we all wanted to know a little bit more.

ALSO READ: Du Plessis steps down as Test and T20I captain

It took us four years to really find out.

Du Plessis’ first period at the highest-level coincided with South Africa’s last as the best traveling Test team around. His career began as Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith’s ended and while AB de Villiers was positioning himself to take over the leadership in all formats. In that time, du Plessis became a reliable presence, sometimes stepping in to skipper the T20 side when de Villiers was being rested and many times stepping in to steady the Test side through his presence in the middle order.

While de Villiers yo-yoed between wanting to be the best batsman in the world to wanting to keep wicket, to having a bad back and not wanting to keep wicket, to wanting to support Hashim Amla as Test captain, to admitting to feeling let down that he wasn’t named captain, to threatening to retire early because of his heavy workload, to taking a sabbatical, du Plessis was there, consistently being consistent. He took on the T20 captaincy when South Africa still treated the format like it didn’t matter and turned it into something that did. Under du Plessis, South Africa talked about T20 strategy more than under any other captain.

He was organised and efficient in the way he led so when de Villiers had to miss a home Test series against New Zealand in 2016, it was not surprising that du Plessis was asked to act as a substitute. At that point, South Africa were in turmoil, although looking back, perhaps that is too strong a word, given what’s happened in recent months.

The 2015 World Cup had ended badly and they lost back-to-back Test series against India and England, which saw them tumble from No. 1 on the Test rankings to No. 7. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were going through the revolving doors of injury, and a transformation target policy was going to be implemented in a stricter way than ever before. It was not an easy time to take over but du Plessis has always preferred the hard way. He earned his national cap via a Kolpak deal, after all.

The series itself was unremarkable. A wet Durban outfield meant that the Centurion Test was a straight shootout and South Africa won easily. Du Plessis scored a century and something about the way he conducted himself made it clear that he was a better candidate to captain than de Villiers.

“Du Plessis mentioned a ‘perfect world’ in which he would lead the Test team for the rest of the season and also at the T20 World Cup, which suggests it was not entirely his decision to step down”

Fortuitously, de Villiers had not recovered from an elbow problem in time for the series in Australia three months later so du Plessis carried on, and how. That tour was his most memorable, as he absorbed the pressure of losing Steyn to a broken shoulder on the second day in Perth and the scrutiny of being caught with a mint in his mouth in Hobart. His hundred under lights in Adelaide turned boos into cheers and South Africa won a third, successive series Down Under.

By the end of the year, de Villiers gave du Plessis his blessing to keep captaining and we all knew the most important thing about him: he had the team.

South Africa played for du Plessis and he played for them. Their performances in Australia in 2016 and against Australia and India in the summer of 2017-18 are the best proof of that. Du Plessis led with dignity, especially when the Australia camp imploded in the aftermath of sandpaper gate, and South Africa’s back-to-back series wins put them back on the track du Plessis wanted them on. He mentioned the No. 1 ranking often and it was doubtless a goal of his, but lack of resources let him down.

Series defeats to Sri Lanka, away in 2018 and at home in 2019, blighted his Test captaincy record but nothing would have stung as much what happened from the World Cup onwards, on and off the field.

South Africa’s worst showing at the 50-over flagship was marred by selection controversy when de Villiers made himself available but was refused a comeback, and followed by administrative unraveling.

It was then that du Plessis’ leadership was taken to its edge. It was then that it would have been easy and obvious to walk away. Du Plessis is understood to have had offers but turned them down because he felt a sense of duty to a team in transition. When Amla and Steyn retired, his own role only became bigger, as the last link to the golden generation and the only one brave enough to go back to India.

Despite not being consulted about the team director and being left out of the T20 squad, du Plessis ploughed through a three-Test series that got worse as it went on. The wounds from 2015 were reopened and South Africa were exposed as being more than just a team in transition; they were a team on the brink of falling apart. Again, it would have been easy for du Plessis to walk away but duty brought him back home to try again. And he started by sharing.

Du Plessis appealed, publicly and on multiple occasions, to CSA to clean house and provide clarity as it lurched through crisis after crisis. He went unheard, and it took sponsor withdrawal, board resignations and a hard-handed attempt at censorship to force a change at head office. Before that happened, du Plessis had already turned to humour.

He created a social media storm as captain of the Paarl Rocks, when he revealed a little too much about why fast-bowler Hardus Viljoen was not available for selection. “He is in bed with my sister,” du Plessis said, straight-faced, explaining that Viljoen had married his sibling the night before. And that was where the fun ended.

The Mzansi Super League final, which du Plessis’ team won, may have been the last time we saw him truly celebrate and be celebrated as a captain. While the two candidates being trialled as his replacement, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma, led teams that finished last and second-last in the tournament, du Plessis took a team of nobodies to the title. That was the strongest statement he could have made that he was the man to take the national team to this year’s T20 World Cup, something he maintained he wanted to do all summer and seems to still want to do.

In his statement on Monday, du Plessis mentioned a “perfect world” in which he would like to lead the team in Tests for the rest of the season and also to the T20 World Cup, which suggests it was not entirely his decision to step down. So who or what might have pushed him?

The evidence points to a perfect storm of loss of form, public and media pressure and politics, none of which are entirely his fault.

In seven Tests in the 2019-20 season, du Plessis averaged 20.92. Only the 2015-16 season, the one before he took over, was worse but that didn’t collide with what he has faced this time.

In an increasingly racially polarised climate, du Plessis found himself swept up in sentiment following the dropping of Bavuma from the Test side. While no one could argue with du Plessis’ logic that Bavuma, who averaged 19.4 in 2019, needed to force his way back in through “weight of runs”, du Plessis’ comment about the team “not seeing colour” was in poor taste for a country that sees little else. It is not for du Plessis to answer why the South African system has only produced one Test-ready black African batsman but it was his job to discuss transformation in more nuanced terms. He got that wrong, but it should not have cost him his captaincy. In all likelihood, it didn’t.

Towards the end of the Test series, as du Plessis maintained his stance that he wanted to continue until the T20 World Cup, acting director of cricket Graeme Smith said he would have a “robust” discussion with du Plessis to discuss his future. Those talks are believed to have happened at length. Ultimately, the decision was taken fresh ideas were needed as South Africa enter a new era. De Kock will inject new energy into the white-ball teams and the Test captaincy successor will be named in the winter. But du Plessis remains duty-bound.

He has not given up the international game and is willing to share more of himself with a commitment to playing in all formats, mentoring the next generation and making it to that T20 World Cup. In all that, du Plessis has shared more than just his batting and leadership skills with South African cricket. He has shared his character, his compassion and the best years of his career and for that, this country should always be grateful.



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Harry Gurney, Stuart Broad convert pubs into delivery services to save staff’s jobs

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In normal circumstances, Harry Gurney would have spent Monday morning finishing his packing and saying goodbyes to his family ahead of his flight to the IPL, but normal left the building some time ago.

Instead, he found himself re-opening one of his pubs – co-owned with Stuart Broad since 2016 – under its new guise as a takeaway and a village shop in an attempt to keep some kind of revenue stream allowing him to pay his 20 full-time staff.

ALSO READ: Cricket’s glorious treasure house can sustain us in perilous times

“We started this back on Monday, when the prime minister said to avoid pubs,” Gurney explained, “and then when he updated that advice to pubs having to close on Friday, we were three or four days ahead of the curve.

“The idea – the reason we started doing it – was job preservation, because we knew that the trade of the pubs was going to pretty much vanish overnight, and we’ve got people who rely on us to pay their mortgages. We wanted to find a way to generate income in order that we were able to continue paying people throughout the crisis.

“I tried to nip it in the bud. I called a meeting last Monday morning of all the key management and just said to them: listen, I’m expecting that we’re going to get closed down in the next week or two, so let’s be prepared for it. We’ll do everything we can not to make any redundancies.”

Uncertainty remains as to whether it will be possible to run the service throughout – Gurney is yet to ascertain exactly what governmental assistance the company will qualify for following the chancellor’s announcement of support for businesses on Friday. But he remains hopeful that one way or another, the business will survive the storm.

“It’s just a chapter in the life of the business”

Harry Gurney

“The banks have been really understanding, one of the pubs that we own, we’ve got a mortgage on it and that’s just gone to interest-only for six months. Then the other one is a tenancy, and the landlord emailed to say we won’t charge rent for the foreseeable future.

“Business rates have disappeared again. We’ll be able to ride it out, but it’s frustrating and difficult. It’s just a chapter in the life of the business, but hopefully we can reap the rewards afterwards if we get through it.”

For Gurney, the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic has prompted one of the busiest periods in the business’ history from a management perspective, with opening nights the only contenders. Along with Broad and the third partner in their business, Dan Cramp, he runs two pubs in the Midlands, and as things stands intends to keep both open throughout the crisis.

Pizzas, fish and chips and curries are among the options on the new takeaway menu, with drinks also available for delivery, and Broad has been enlisted to help on the delivery run.

“I’m a lot more hands on than Broady, but he’s great when he’s around – it’s not common that we’re around at the same time” Gurney said. “He visits the pub, he does stuff on social media, and he’s talking about helping us do some takeaway and grocery deliveries next week.”

As for life stuck at home? Things could be worse. Aside from finding a way to keep his two-year-old son entertained, Gurney intends to “play a bit of piano, drink red wine, do some reading” as well as running to keep fit.

The working assumption remains that the IPL season will take place, though exactly when remains unclear, and the English season remains scheduled to start at the end of May with the T20 Blast. Gurney typically gives himself a four-week period to get up to speed ahead of a franchise tournament, so the lack of clarity is something of a frustration.

So on Monday afternoon, rather than boarding his flight to Kolkata as initially planned, he allowed himself a snap purchase with weeks sat at home in mind.

“I’ve just bought a PlayStation. I bought it about an hour ago. It’s the first time I’ve had one since I was, I reckon, 21 or 22.” At a time like this, who can blame him?



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Beuran Hendricks earns CSA national contract, Dale Steyn left out

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Beuran Hendricks, the left-arm seamer who made his Test and ODI debuts for South Africa in the past season, is the only new name on the national men’s contracted player list for the 2020-21 season. Meanwhile, pacer Nadine de Klerk, who was part of South Africa’s squad at the T20 World Cup earlier this month and wicket-keeper Sinalo Jafta have been added to the women’s national contracted squad. Both lists include the same number of players as least season – 16 men and 14 women – with the option of a 17th men’s player being contracted through the season.

Anrich Nortje, Rassie van der Dussen and Dwaine Pretorius are all examples of players who did exactly that. The trio were not originally named on the 2019-20 contract list but were upgraded over the course of the previous summer by virtue of the number of matches they played for the national side.

All three have been contracted for the 2020-21 season. Top-order batsman Theunis de Bruyn has been dropped from the men’s contract list, while Dale Steyn, who remains available in white-ball formats, has been excluded and Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander have retired. Offspinner Raisibe Ntozakhe and allrounder Zintle Mali are the two women’s players who no longer have contracts.

Faf du Plessis, who stood down as Test and T20 captain last month, has been re-contracted and remains available to play for South Africa in all formats suggesting his retirement is at least a year away. Du Plessis was part of the ODI squad that traveled to India earlier this month and has committed himself to his role as a senior player and in assisting his successor. While Quinton de Kock has taken over as white-ball captain, South Africa have yet to name a Test captain.

Contenders are believed to include de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram who remains on the contracted player list despite missing most of last season on the sidelines. Markram broke his wrist during the October Test series in India, a self-inflicted injury caused by “lashing out a solid object,” after bagging a pair in India. He recovered in time to play the 2019 Boxing Day Test against England but fractured a finger in the match, ruling him out of the rest of the summer’s internationals. Markram returned for his franchise, the Titans, in late February and scored two hundred in six one-day cup matches before the competition was suspended.

Markram’s replacement at the top of the order in the Test XI, Pieter Malan, has not been contracted. Neither has his brother Janneman Malan, who scored a century while opening the batting in his second ODI. Also missing from the list are Heinrich Klaasen and JJ Smuts, who have both been part of South Africa’s white-ball squads this summer and have both had decent returns, and Zubayr Hamza, who played in the Test team. However, all of them have the opportunity to earn a contract in the coming season.

South Africa’s men’s team has a busy schedule and are due to play away tours in Sri Lanka (white-ball) and West Indies (two Tests, five T20s) between May and August, although the future of those trips will hinge on the impact of COVID-19, which has already seen two men’s ODIs in India postponed. That will be followed by the men’s T20 World Cup in Australia and the home season, which sees visits from Sri Lanka (Tests), Australia (Tests), Pakistan (T20) and India (T20). The women’s team is due to travel to West Indies and England over the winter – tours that may prove unlikely – and will then turn their attention to the 2021 ODI World Cup.

They automatically qualified for the event before their home series against Australia, due to take place this month, was forced to be rescheduled because of the ongoing pandemic.

Last Monday, all activity in South African cricket was put on hold for 60 days, after South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster as a result of the coronavirus. Although the impact on the season has been minimal – with the semi-finals and finals of the one-day cup and two rounds of first-class cricket unable to be completed – it does mean that off-season camps, aimed to upskill South Africa’s cricketers, will have to wait.

Behind-the-scenes, CSA are continuing to plan for next summer and now that the central contracts have been announced, the six domestic franchises are expected to finalise their player pools in the coming week.

Nationally contracted men’s players:Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen

Nationally contracted women’s players: Trisha Chetty, Nadine de Klerk, Mignon du Preez, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka, Masabata Klaas, Lizelle Lee, Sune Luus, Tumi Sekhukhune, Chloe Tryon, Dane van Niekerk, Laura Wolvaardt



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How Ellyse Perry’s words turned around Australia Women’s T20 World Cup campaign

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“We just need to make sure we’ve got soul in this group.” It was Ellyse Perry who delivered this critical message to the Australia Women’s team when they stood on the brink of elimination from the T20 World Cup they would go on gloriously to win, the national team coach, Matthew Mott, has revealed.

Australia’s campaign culminated in a wondrous night at the MCG where Meg Lanning‘s team defeated India to raise the trophy in front of more than 86,000 spectators. Mott described how, as well prepared as they were beforehand, the Australians struggled mightily with the weight of expectation.

It had them nervous and getting away from their natural, aggressive instincts in the tournament opener against India at the Sydney Showgrounds, and took them near to elimination in the following game against Sri Lanka in Perth. After Lanning and vice-captain Rachael Haynes had fashioned a partnership to get them home, team leaders called a batting meeting at their hotel to discuss how to change things – at this point, they needed to win four matches in a row to claim the title.

“Traditionally what happens in cricket, and this is only in my experiences, but because you share so much information about bowling and batting is more of an individual pursuit, we rarely have actual batting meetings, they’re normally part of the full meeting,” Mott said. “But we actually called a batting meeting, we just opened it up and said ‘how do you think we’re going, what do we need to do to actually be the best we can be, and be true to ourselves’ and the honesty around that was incredible.

“Players admitted ‘I’m nervous, I haven’t been playing like I normally play, I should be doing this, I should be doing that’. Ellyse Perry was at that meeting because she goes in both meetings as an allrounder. She says ‘to be honest, we just need to make sure we’ve got soul in this group, and we look out for each other, be a little bit more overt with our body language and maybe the odd fist-bump and something like that when someone has hit a good boundary’. I think if you look back to us in the first two games compared to the last few, you definitely saw a greater appreciation of a partnership, and I reckon that was pivotal.”

Perry’s message, combined with the batting of Lanning and Haynes, gave the Australians the reset they desperately needed to play more freely, as demonstrated by subsequent wins over Bangladesh, New Zealand, South Africa amid Sydney’s showers, and finally India in the tournament decider. Perry, of course, was to miss the last two games with a hamstring injury, but her experience and wisdom were tellingly kept on board right up to the finish line.

“We talked about it a lot before the tournament,” Mott said. “The beauty of this team was we actually realised that we didn’t react well in the first game and we were nervous, I was nervous, so I can imagine what the players were like. There was so much expectation and build-up, and we knew there was a lot at stake. For us to turn out at the MCG was potentially a game-changing moment for not just cricket but women’s sport. So there was absolutely a burden there.

“How we internalised that and actually helped each other out sort of happened after Perth and that partnership between Rach [Haynes] and Meg [Lanning]. I think you always look back and say what a great final, but we had no right to be there unless that partnership happened, and that just changed our whole philosophy for the tournament. It was almost like a lightbulb moment of ‘if we keep playing scared and timid we’re going to get these results’. So I was really pleased with the batting group in particular that they galvanised and formed a unit and said ‘we’re going to commit to this. If it doesn’t come off, it doesn’t come off, but we’re going to make sure we go down swinging at least’.”

Mott, who began his coaching career as an assistant to Trevor Bayliss with the New South Wales state team, also spoke about the parallels between Australia’s women taking on the task of winning a home World Cup and England’s men’s team trying to win their first-ever global tournament, also on home soil in 2019.

“Even the way England, after their disappointment in 2015, tried to change the game up and take the game on,” Mott said. “It didn’t always come off, sometimes it doesn’t look great, and you’re always judged on your results. There are certain times where it doesn’t come off, but if you stay true to it, I think Alyssa Healy‘s the perfect example of that, if you’ve got that rare talent that not many players have, [it does reward you].

“As coaches and support staff you’ve just got to keep fostering that when the results aren’t coming, because you don’t want game-changers to start second-guessing themselves. We had to hold the faith and there was a lot of people talking about ‘how are you going to play’, there was never a doubt in our team that at some point she [Healy] was going to hurt someone and I think she did it a few times, ably supported by Beth [Mooney]. A different role, a bit more consistent over time, but they’re just a perfect foil for each other.”



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