Du Plessis' lesson in stonewalling
When the next middle-order batsman makes his debut for South Africa, he may hope for an Australia tour to do it in. After all, the last two to do so have launched the careers there.
In 2008, JP Duminy's career was conceived at the WACA and born at the MCG, with a half-century at the former and hundred at the latter turning him into the next big thing. Faf du Plessis did not even have to wait for a second venue. He went from a cricketing infant to a fully grown man in three days in Adelaide, with a contribution that gave South Africa a great escape.
Du Plessis' arrival will be compared with that and Jacques Kallis' effort in 1997 at the MCG, made even more poignant by the fact that Kallis himself was involved in the partnerships that brought up du Plessis' milestones in both innings.
If Duminy had not been injured after the first day's play in Brisbane, du Plessis would not have played in the series at all. And in even more 'truth is stranger than fiction' fashion, if Ashwell Prince had not been injured the day before the Perth Test in 2008, Duminy would have not played at all. The chain reaction of capitalising on injury and being part of a historic result will be retold with the awe of a myth. Watching it felt like being on the last sentence of a page every time, waiting to turn it over as fast as possible to see what was on the other side but wanting to absorb every word first.
The scene-setter was perfect. A visibly inhibited AB de Villiers who, despite being one of du Plessis' best friends from his school days had always outshone him at age group level, was his partner at first. Now, on the same playing field, there could be no better mentor to keep du Plessis calm. "I saw a few tweets last night saying it's Affies [the Afrikaans Seuns Hoërskool] against Australia," du Plessis said.
For two sessions, the two showed temperament that would tire even the most determined fast bowlers as they offered forward defensive after forward defensive. Every time de Villiers has faced this amount of balls in Test cricket, 220, he has managed at least 150 runs. There were only 33 to show for him this time.
Du Plessis was not quite as apprehensive although he stonewalled with equal determination. On the two occasions when it seemed Australia has breached his defence, technology proved that they hadn't and the umpire's calls of 'out' were overturned. Not long after, when Michael Clarke tried to use the DRS to remove him, it denied Australia again.
None of that fazed him; he batted in a bubble. He concerned himself with only the next ball, with what he had to do to make sure he did not get out to it and not who was bowling it.
That bubble only burst when de Villiers was bowled after lunch and du Plessis had to fight with an injured man. With Jacques Kallis' injury on everyone's mind, run-scoring had to become even more of an afterthought. He spent 11 overs in the 90s and had to hold himself back, though he appeared anxious to complete a century. He offered Matthew Wade a chance off the edge when he was on 94 and nerves set in further. After tea, he tried to glance a few deliveries down the leg side and when that didn't work, he reverted back to the drive.
Eventually, all he could do was tell himself to forget the impending achievement. "I was on 96 when I said I am one boundary away here, so please can they bowl me a half volley," he said. "When I was on 98, then the emotions started pouring in. I said to myself to 'think of the team's goal', which was to be defensive and not give everything away."
It would have been cruel if after focusing on that goal for seven hours and 47 minutes, he was not able to celebrate something of his own. It seemed the least he deserved. When it happened it was with the same quiet efficiency as the rest of his innings. South Africa were still some way off saving the match and du Plessis would still have work to do with the tail, so he was not over the top in his acknowledgment of a landmark most people would have whooped about.
Almost everything about this Test has been modest for du Plessis. His girlfriend Imari Visser did not see any of his heroics despite coming to Australia with him on the tour; the couple was unsure whether du Plesiss would play the match, and so she booked flights to Melbourne to visit her family during the Adelaide Test.
Things are unlikely to be so discreet for him in the near future. Already people have asked what took so long for him to be selected for South Africa; while his first-class career began well and he averaged around the 40 mark, in 2008 chose to become a Kolpak player and so could not be selected for South Africa. It is unlikely that he would have picked anyway been because the Test squad had a settled and experienced line-up that included the likes of Neil McKenzie and Ashwell Prince.
A spot only opened up in December 2011, when Prince was dropped. Jacques Rudolph, who had struggled at the top of the order was moved down, though, so the queue shortened but did not disappear.
Du Plessis was not in the best position to command a spot either. He batting No.7 for Titans, he was not spending enough time at the crease. That only changed when Matthew Maynard moved him up the order last season and he repaid the coach with 599 runs in four matches. Suddenly, the people that mattered took notice and he was considered as more than just a limited-overs energiser.
From there, he followed the usual path. He played for South Africa A, he was a reserve member of the senior side and when the chance came, he got it. It is a tough road to being a properly prepared international cricketer but du Plessis would not prefer it any other way.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent