Minty-fresh South Africa Test captain Faf du Plessis is one of All Out Cricket’s People of the Year, 2016.
It’s not easy being Faf du Plessis. Not in Australia, where he is accused of being allergic to shirts and derided as an underwear model (damn straight on both counts), nor in England, where his utter un-Englishness makes Kevin Pietersen seem, by comparison, as if he has wobbled woopsily out of an autumn party hosted by Auberon Waugh.
So the Aussies can’t stand du Plessis because he isn’t bad-ass enough. And the Poms can’t stand him because he is too bad-ass. Which means the bloke must be getting something right.
Top of the list is that since August he’s captained South Africa to a string one-day and Test victories over New Zealand and Australia. AB de Villiers’ surgically repaired elbow forced the hand of the suits who, in appointing his full-time successor, acknowledged what we all know: that du Plessis is easily the best captain on the South African scene.
Du Plessis doesn’t have de Villiers’ outrageousness, Hashim Amla’s serenity nor Quinton de Kock’s barely legal power. Not for him Graeme Smith’s muscular swagger nor Jacques Kallis’ spooky impenetrability.
What he does have is more guts than a slaughterhouse floor. That and an unshakeable sense of what’s possible.
Bat for more than a day to save the Adelaide Test in 2012? Done, and on debut no less. Inflict the Aussies’ first ever 5-0 hiding in a one-day series? Why not. Smack them silly in the first two Tests of the series that followed? Hell yes.
Score a fine century as the perfect up-yours to the Adelaide Oval yobs who booed him all the way to the crease in the wake of his ball-tampering conviction in November? Bring it.
Du Plessis, as cussed a critter who has yet crouched at the crease, doesn’t do hyperbole. He simply does whatever it takes. And all with the twinkling eyes and wicked smile of the wolf who has spotted Little Red Riding Hood on yonder garden path.
Not to mention with a refreshing respect for his fellow travellers in cricket’s grand circus. Reporters, for instance, have to stop themselves for pausing mid-question to admire the seriousness he brings to the damnable chore that is the press conference.
Answer their questions he does and then some, and with an endearing humanity. In Australia, during yet another tedious discussion on the merits or not of day/night Test cricket, du Plessis, whose first language is Afrikaans, interrupted his own reply to ask the room whether he should refer to twilight or dusk.
“Bless you,” he inserted seamlessly into the drawl of an answer when another journalist sneezed.
Bless you too, Faf.
The full list of All Out Cricket’s People of the Year appears in issue 148 of our magazine , out on December 29