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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel Nine's cricket coverage

Faf celebrated in the land he denied

Faf du Plessis' epic fourth-innings hundred, which lasted nearly eight hours in the heat and humidity of Adelaide, is one of the greatest match-saving innings

Mark Nicholas

November 27, 2012

Comments: 83 | Text size: A | A

Faf du Plessis celebrates a century on debut, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 5th day, November 26, 2012
Faf du Plessis' celebration of an immense hundred was almost apologetic, because he had miles to go to save the Test for South Africa © Getty Images

Ever seen a movie that makes you squirm? A movie so transparently demanding of all its characters and so utterly compelling for all its viewers that you move from cheek to cheek in your seat, so uncomfortable that you cannot decide which is better, to watch or not to watch. If you have, you now have a feel for the last session of the Adelaide Test.

Australia did not deserve not to win. South Africa did not deserve to lose. Cricket has the answer. Play for five long days and finish without a result. Insane but we love it. And all because of a fellow called Faf - the darnedest, least likely name of a sporting hero I ever heard. Oh for a Viv, a Seb or a Seve; a Sachin, a Tiger or the Fed (Kevin is not good by the way, but KP sort of works). But Faf it is, out of Pretoria and now having pins stuck in his doll down under. Faf du Plessis did anything but faff.

The Faf facts are, he batted for seven hours and 46 minutes, in mainly 34 degrees of heat and high humidity, with five different partners, one of whom could barely run, to defy a voracious Australian attack and save a crucial match for his beloved country. This was a monumental effort, performed on debut and already written into the folklore of South African cricket: Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock against Australia in Durban, 1970; Kepler Wessels' men at Lord's, 1994; Faf du Plessis against Australia in Adelaide, 2012.

This writer did not even know du Plessis had been picked for the tour. Muppet. Waffling away on these pages three weeks ago, he said "Graeme Smith's No. 1-ranked team comes without the usual bench strength... there is no specialist batsman in reserve." Big mistake, huge. Better research next time. Du Plessis is bench strength writ large. He is energy and honesty and reliability. He is neither the most gifted nor the least, but is a good bloke, uncomplaining and popular. Indeed, he defines bench strength. Behind every good team is a good bench.

Of the 376 balls faced by the most talked about man in South Africa this week, no more than a dozen caused a problem. Both the Adelaide pitch and the Decision Review System were his friends. AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis were brothers in arms and equally impressive, if not impregnable. By playing forward and back, not from the crease, and by showing the maker's name to bowlers who threw their Australian souls at him, a proud Afrikaner allowed South Africa the luxury of arriving in Perth without a deficit.

There was something of the past in du Plessis' modesty. His clothes were neat, his kit uncluttered, his hair, when that helmet came off for air, short and side-parted. His celebration of a hundred was near apologetic"

This had not seemed possible at any time in the match, bar those long forgotten first-morning punches by Kallis, the bowler. Mesmerised by late swing both Ed Cowan and Ricky Ponting perished ingloriously. Three down for not many so soon after winning the toss, Australia looked once more to Michael Clarke, a man whose stock has risen more remarkably than the Dow Jones through the last years of the 20th century. Seeing Kallis limp from the fight, Clarke responded with punches of his own - drives and pulls that took him to the top of the world rankings and his team to 482 in the 86.5 overs bowled by the close of play.

Inside three days, in different parts of the world and on very different pitches, two men who once wore skunk hairdos and now settle for tattoos and a hint of jewellery as their rebellion, played innings that rank among the best in history. Modern men gracing an age-old game that people think will soon pass. It will not. Not if the Test matches in Mumbai and Adelaide are an indication. One team - England - staging the greatest comeback since, well since Sunday, when the Stones wreaked their havoc at the O2 arena in London. The other - South Africa - the greatest escape since Lord Lucan. These matches are proof of the sport, they are the reason we live it and love it and must continue to campaign for its pre-eminence. If Test cricket goes, a piece of us goes with it. The piece that is patience, manners and respect; the piece that is without commerce at its core.

By Monday - five days after the 482 festival on Thursday of the previous week, but in the same match - a mere 169 runs were scored in six hours play. Work that out and explain it to a Spaniard. Yet every ball had meaning and drama. Australia needed just six balls to go right but only four finished in their favour. Think of it: more than 540 deliveries by six different protagonists and only six had to work out as Clarke and Co wished. But they did not and we will talk of it forever. Watson and Bailey; McKay and Kline; Anderson and Panesar; du Plessis and Morkel - the two Afrikaners who join the list of cricket's most brilliant escapologists.

So pure and old hat was this Test match that one yearned for the pre-hard-hat days, those days without helmets, when the eyes and expressions of the cricketers drove our fancy. Those days before the DRS, when the umpires took our spleen, and technology was a slip-catch cradle that provided hours of fun and hands turned black and blue. There was something of the past in du Plessis' modesty. His clothes were neat, his kit uncluttered, his hair, when that helmet came off for air, short and side-parted. He played forward defensives as if brought up in Barnsley, and his celebration of a hundred was near apologetic: "Oops, sorry for momentary lapse into self-indulgence," he seemed to say, "I've a job to finish here."

And all this from a man whose best known previous is in T20. Look him up, been around a bit. Francois du Plessis: 141 List A or 75 T20s, 79 first-class. Played all over the place - Chennai, London, Manchester, and Melbourne soon apparently. Not till last season was he a regular pick for Northerns or Titans - the old Northern Transvaal - in first-class cricket. This is a riches to relevance story. T20 then Tests - one buys the shoes, the other books a slot in the history books.

All over town, people are talking about it. Baristas and barristers; doctors and nurses; the bloke at the gym, the one at the laundry, the eco-friendly folk upstairs who don't usually have cricket on their lips, the mate who played footie for Australia, the restaurateur, the providore. There, that's the sort of day I've had. No faffing from me, and none from him either. It is high praise to be celebrated in the land you denied.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 20:04 GMT)

Great article describing a great test (and great escape for South Africa!) Cricinfo must be one of the best dedicated sports sites around - and it's articles like this that keeps on bringing us back...

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 16:50 GMT)

Test cricket is still the pinnacle of the sport and we are seeing it in all the wonderful series being played. T20 is exciting and will bring new fans to cricket but the Test match is just that...the ultimate test!

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 6:33 GMT)

Great words. I was mesmerised by that final day and love the fact that test cricket can still be that exciting.

Posted by Paulk on (November 29, 2012, 0:37 GMT)

Terrific article. Te writing appears to be from another time or era just like the cricket was (and Faf's batting) on the last day. Thank you Mr. Nicholas.

Posted by zafar_tayyab on (November 28, 2012, 13:40 GMT)

Great Art Faf and Mark both of you. Faf for displaying the art of determination and Mark for bringing out beauty of it. Thank you both. By the way being a neutral spectator I always anticipate some thing special from every game between these two great teams specially after watching them score almost nine hundred runs in only one day of cricket in that epic 50 overs a side ODI match few years back.

Posted by gundapps on (November 28, 2012, 12:24 GMT)

Spare a thought for DRS. But for it, a truly outstanding test would have been done and dusted long before any drama unfolded and SA would have left complaining that they were done in by bad umpiring. BCCI note!

Posted by Digimont on (November 28, 2012, 10:53 GMT)

As an Australian fan, I unreservedly doff my Akubra in your direction, Mr Du Plessis. I note that your team mates collectively did their bit from the other end too and the Australians kepy coming. Great article Mark. Great advertisement for REAL cricket. Long live test cricket. I just hope that next year's drop in pitch is up to standard. What a fitting farewell for the old strip of Adelaide black dirt covered in Santa Anna couch.

Posted by redneck on (November 28, 2012, 9:48 GMT)

would have been caught if wade wasnt trying to stand up to the stumps for hilfey???? still credit where credit is due, what an innings! the total opposite of what we saw from clarke on day one but an innings of equal importance in the end.

Posted by ozwriter on (November 28, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

faf, what an innings. there aren't not enough superlatives to describe what he did. this article does a good job though.

Posted by SirBobJones on (November 28, 2012, 9:02 GMT)

Am I still recovering from a big one last night, or did Mark Nicholas admit he was wrong about something?

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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