Du Plessis ready to take his chance
Faf du Plessis knew he would make his Test debut in Adelaide almost two weeks ago. The moment he saw JP Duminy being carried into the dressing room at the Gabba, with agony splashed across his face and rumours of a ruptured Achilles' starting to sprout, du Plessis knew.
In those moments, nobody actually told du Plessis that he was going to play the second Test, but he was next in line and Duminy's replacement, Dean Elgar, would join the squad at the end of the queue. Picking either Robin Peterson or Thami Tsolekile would change the balance of the XI, so du Plessis knew.
"I knew I am the replacement batter if something goes wrong with one of the guys playing, I would be next in line," Du Plessis had said. "I felt so bad because I am really close with JP. The feeling was there that I am going to play in the next Test but it wasn't a nice feeling, it was a bad feeling."
Almost two weeks have passed, Duminy's operation was declared a success, and du Plessis has no need to feel apologetic. He isn't the only player whose chance has come at someone's expense. He knows that irrespective of how the door opened, he should walk through it.
Du Plessis has spent the last six months preparing for this. His growth in the longer format was best explained by Matthew Maynard, his coach at Titans. When Maynard mooted the idea of Du Plessis playing higher up the order, at No. 5, he was keen to give it a try. In four matches last season, Du Plessis scored 599 runs with three hundreds and spent more time at the crease than he had ever done before.
His actions highlight his commitment to first-class cricket. While Du Plessis was at the IPL this year, Somerset requested his involvement in their Twenty20 campaign. Du Plessis agreed. However, CSA asked him to withdraw from the Friends Life t20 to captain South Africa A in two unofficial Tests against Sri Lanka A, and in a triangular series in Zimbabwe. It meant foregoing a lucrative deal, believed to be worth about US$50,000, but Du Plessis had no qualms doing so.
He said playing for South Africa A would help further his Test ambitions. In that series, he scored a hundred in the first match, which South Africa A won by an innings. Elgar was the other centurion. Du Plessis would have also toured Ireland with South Africa A in August but he was called up to the senior squad as back up for Albie Morkel, who had injured his ankle in England.
That was the first sign that Du Plessis would be the next middle-order batsman for South Africa. He got his first taste of Test cricket when he fielded in place of Alviro Petersen at Headingley and immediately felt the difference from a limited-overs environment. "It was a really intense, serious vibe. You can see the guys are really geared up," he had said. "I'm part of the one-day side and that's all about energy but here, you can see it's proper cricket."
Du Plessis has enough experience for his selection to be a natural step and his captain Graeme Smith spoke with pride about the newest debutant. "It's a wonderful opportunity for Faf. He has had really high standard the last few years. He has been around this group since England and he has been part of some special times, so he is looking forward to making a mark on this team."
Du Plessis' part-time legspin could also be useful on the Adelaide pitch but Smith said South Africa would not rely on him heavily. "He is in the same mould as JP in that he can play a role with the ball," Smith said. "But with us picking Imran [Tahir], he will front up for majority of that spin option, although having Faf does allow you someone else in the group that can contribute."
In 26 ODIs and four Twenty20s, Du Plessis is yet to have a defining moment in international cricket. November 22 at Adelaide Oval could be it, and he seems to know that.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent