Du Plessis: 'Toughest of times' but I'll see it through

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Faf du Plessis' worth at the very beginning of his test career was measured — strangely for a batsman — by time more than runs.

He'll return to that at the end.

Du Plessis said Monday in the aftermath of a dispiriting innings defeat to England for his inexperienced South Africa side that he wasn't going to retire from tests just yet. Even when it's probably the right time for him personally to go.

“I felt that the team has needed a leader to stand up and try and guide the ship through a difficult time,” du Plessis said. "Yes, duty is one (of the reasons). If you leave the team when they need you most, that’s not my style.

“It’s just about trying to be the strongest leader that I can be for the team. For now, that's committing to this series. The worst thing a leader can do is pull the plug mid-series and say, ‘Sorry boys, I am out. I’ve had enough.’ I don’t think that's what leadership is about."

After losing to England in Port Elizabeth to go 2-1 down in the series with one game to come, du Plessis didn't once cite a reason why staying would be good for his own career when he wants to now concentrate on limited-overs cricket. All the indications are — including from du Plessis himself — that it's the right time to give up tests for him.

But South Africa has lost a large amount of experience in recent seasons to test retirements — AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn stand out. And the Proteas have been further drained by a host of players choosing overseas Kolpak club contracts over South Africa.

The team that lost to England in Port Elizabeth has five very new players, and a brand new coaching staff. They are all finding how tough test cricket can be at the start. The 35-year-old du Plessis, in his ninth year with the test team, is the stability in what he called “the toughest of times."

So, du Plessis will lead South Africa in the crucial, series-deciding final test against England in Johannesburg starting on Friday, when the Proteas need to win to save the series and avoid slipping further into the mire. But he will also then probably play one more series, he indicated, a handover of leadership duties in the West Indies later in the year.

That'll be nearly a decade of service to South Africa's test team, first as a batsman then captain as well.

Back at the beginning of that service, du Plessis made 110 not out on his test debut in Australia in 2012. It saved a test from a position of no hope. It was a century but what really mattered to South Africa was not the runs but the time he stuck it out: Nearly eight hours over two days at the Adelaide Oval. That saved South Africa.

Du Plessis would clearly love to get one more century. It would be his 10th in tests and round it off nicely. His last hundred came more than a year ago and his lack of batting form has been an additional weight. And a century from du Plessis in Johannesburg would obviously be precious in the context of the England series. This can still be saved for South Africa, too.

But, like in Adelaide at the start, the most valuable thing du Plessis can give South Africa at the end of his career is his time. And he recognizes that once again even when there's far less to gain for him this time.


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