Faf goes where no-one has gone in 10 months in Mzansi

South African captain Faf du Plessis celebrates reaching his century on Friday at Newlands.
South African captain Faf du Plessis celebrates reaching his century on Friday at Newlands.
Image: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images

Faf du Plessis accomplished at Newlands on Friday what no-one else has done in South Africa since April last year.

Before Friday‚ nobody besides South Africa’s captain had savoured this feat for 68 Test innings played in his country‚ and the previous player to do so was Du Plessis himself.

What was this achievement‚ this thing that has been out of reach of every other cricketer who has stepped over the boundary in Mzansi for 10 months?

A Test century.

Du Plessis’s 103 marked the first time any player has reached three figures in South Africa since he scored 120 against Australia at the Wanderers in April.

So all that talk about South Africa being a difficult place to bat is more than just talk.

It’s a truth that’s bolstered by the fact that the average number of runs scored per wicket in all the Tests played there — 29.82 — is lower than anywhere else besides Ireland‚ which has hosted only one match. In every other country the average is above 30 runs per wicket.

Du Plessis’s effort on Friday‚ which took him 226 balls and six minutes short of six hours‚ exacted its price in bruises inflicted by Pakistan’s potent pace attack on a pitch that might have come with an age restriction. Don’t let the kids see this.

“It was a mammoth innings from him‚” Temba Bavuma told reporters in Cape Town. “He probably took more blows on the body and the ball was passing his helmet more.”

Bavuma‚ who made a sturdy 78 himself‚ was at the post-play press conference because‚ team management said‚ Du Plessis was on the treatment table.

This‚ mind‚ is the man who had no trouble coming to the presser after batting for more than 11 hours and facing 535 balls for his scores of 78 and 110 not out on his debut against Australia in Adelaide’s heat in November 2012.

But batting in South Africa is different‚ a challenge that can veer towards being unfair. Did this Newlands pitch deserve that insult?

“I wouldn’t call it dangerous‚” Bavuma said. “Faf is still living. I’m still living. It was challenging but definitely not impossible to bat on.”

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur‚ who knows all about opening the batting in South Africa from his days playing for Griqualand West and Free State‚ differed.

“The standard of the wicket we had at Centurion [in the first Test‚ where South Africa won by six wickets inside three days] and the wicket here‚ I think‚ hasn’t been good enough for Test cricket‚” he said.

Before the match‚ Du Plessis spoke of the logic behind South Africa‚ in effect‚ robbing their batters to pay their pace bowlers.

“In a perfect world everyone is scoring hundreds and doing well. But our success rate at home in the last three years has been at a very high percentage.

“That has meant it’s been tougher on the batters at home. So when you’re playing against quality seam attacks — which most teams have — the batters’ numbers will drop.

“But me and the coach [Ottis Gibson]‚ we’re OK with that; we’re OK with looking at winning cricket. That’s our focus.

“It’s tough. It’s not just tough on [the batters] it’s tough on the captain as well — I also want to be scoring hundreds and averaging 50.

“But there’s a good mindset in our changeroom. That’s what makes us different to other teams.

“If it means failure‚ as long as we’re winning the team does buy into it. But it is tough on young guys making their mark [and] playing on wickets that are a bit spicy.

“Then you go overseas and you play in the subcontinent where the ball probably spins from day one. But captains just want to win games of Test cricket‚ so they’re happy.

“Because if we’re winning everyone stays in the team.

“Your senior players‚ your big players‚ need to put in performances.”

Job done‚ skipper. Where to from here‚ Temba‚ considering South Africa are going into the third day 205 runs ahead and with four wickets standing?

“The team plan? As far as I know it’s to bat on.”

Easy for him to say.

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