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'Everything inside me didn't want to give it away'

It was a decision he took seven years ago that brought Faf du Plessis the heroic status he enjoys in South Africa today

Firdose Moonda

November 30, 2012

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

Faf du Plessis defends resolutely on the fourth morning, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 5th day, November 26, 2012
Du Plessis: "Four sessions felt like a really long time. If you break it down to an hour, it helps" © Getty Images
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Faf du Plessis was 21 when Nottinghamshire offered him a Kolpak deal with a conditional clause that said he would have to qualify for England if he accepted. He refused. Seven years later he understands the significance of turning down that offer.

By the time tea was taken on the last day of the Adelaide Test in 2012, du Plessis had been batting for almost six hours. His head was swirling with the Australians' sledging, he was cramping, and his back ached. "I asked the physiotherapist for some pain tablets and AB de Villiers came to me and said, 'Keep fighting because you don't understand how much this means for the people back home. If you get through this, your career will be changed.' That made me make sure I didn't give it away."

For the rest of the day he battled through more of the same. When he finished, Graeme Smith thanked him for giving the country a chance at a second successive series win in Australia. "Faf played a massive part in bringing us to Perth level in the series," Smith said. To be held up as a country's hero left du Plessis "happy and so humbled". And now he wants more of it.

That it may not have turned out this way only makes it sweeter. Before county cricket threatened to take him away from South African cricket, rugby did. "My dad was a professional rugby player. He played centre for Northern Transvaal in the 1980s with Naas Botha [former Springbok flyhalf], and I always felt that my dad preferred me playing rugby to cricket.

"In primary school I played rugby at the time before shoulder pads, and I used to like kicking and running with the ball. But I wasn't a massive fan of tackling and my dad drilled tackling into me. I got my first pair of shoulder pads in standard six and I just started to love tackling, and the fear of breaking bones went away. But I was always better at cricket.

"When I was 16, I decided I wanted to play cricket and not rugby, but I still played a bit of rugby in my final school year. I broke my wrist that season and I missed two months of cricket season and I told myself that was exactly why I shouldn't have been playing rugby."

His parents pushed him to pursue his studies. Du Plessis' best friend, de Villiers, also a budding cricketer, had registered for a degree in sports science, so du Plessis grudgingly agreed to do the same. "I thought I would tag along and I went to the university, but that day there was a queue, so I just decided I didn't want to do it," du Plessis said. "Three months later, AB also stopped studying because he said it was a waste of time. We both wanted to play cricket full time."

As they progressed through the cricket levels, de Villiers always remained ahead of du Plessis. He got a contract at Northerns and a fast-track into the national team, while du Plessis had to find a way to make a living playing club cricket overseas.

"I started at Liverpool Cricket Club and then moved to the Nottingham league. Greg Smith, who also played for the Titans, played for the main Notts side, and he managed to arrange a second-team game for me. I scored 200 in my first game for them.

"In the next three games I got three hundreds in a row and that's when Kolpak came up. Notts offered me a three-year contract but they wanted me to qualify for England. For every Kolpak player they paid penalties, and so I had a serious decision to make. I was 21 and I was playing a little bit here and there but not permanently for the Titans. Notts were offering eight or ten times more than I was earning at home."

In his heart, he wanted to stay home. "I just had this burning desire inside me to play for South Africa and I was too young to just give it up. As a job, you want to make as much money as possible. But I thought I wouldn't do it at the time, it didn't feel right. Richard Pybus said to me that I would be stupid to go." So du Plessis didn't go.

Although a strong performer for the Titans in the shorter format, he wasn't close to national selection when another county came knocking. "I got an opportunity for Lancashire. They offered me a better deal, because they said we don't want you to qualify [for England]. They just offered me a contract and I thought it would be the perfect thing for me at the time, because then I would play six months professional cricket in England, six months in South Africa, and I did that for two years, during which I gained a lot of experience."

 
 
"I remember asking AB to keep me positive, because we were playing so defensively it's easy to creep into your shell and get a bit lazy. I asked him to talk to me every second or third ball"
 

By 2010, when Kolpak rules changed, du Plessis was a Titans heavyweight and in the selectors' eye. He had played in A sides and made his South Africa debut less than a year later, in an ODI series against India. His advice to young South African cricketers is to do what he did: to go play overseas for personal development.

"Go there and play. You are on your own, away from family and friends. You have to deal with life on your own. You're not living in your parents' house. I learned everything there: ironing, washing and buying groceries and cooking food."

In fact, he became a keen cook. "I got into Jamie Oliver quite a bit. I don't like Greek food but I cook everything else. I'm quite a healthy eater and so I cook stuff along those lines and I do a lot of experimenting on different vegetable and meat dishes."

Du Plessis is the designated cook when his friends meet up, and has promised to give de Villiers some kitchen tips, "especially now that he is engaged". For du Plessis too, marriage is not far away. "As a guy, you always breathe a little heavier when someone says you are going to get married, but I can now say that it's around the corner," he said.

His girlfriend, Imari Visser, has now quit her job as a marketing manager to travel the world with him. "The plan is for her to do some more studying and do her honours, and when the day comes that she needs to work again or when I stop travelling as much, then she can just get straight back into it," du Plessis said.

Visser travelled to Australia but booked a trip to Melbourne to visit her brother during the Adelaide Test, so she missed the innings that announced du Plessis to the cricketing world.

After a solid 78 in the first innings, few expected more from du Plessis. When he walked out for the second innings, South Africa were staring at defeat. But his best friend was at the other end.

"Four sessions felt like a really long time so we said, 'Let's try and get to drinks.' And then when we got there, we said, 'Let's get to the end of play.' If you break it down to an hour, it helps." They had to dig even deeper on day five and du Plessis relied on de Villiers' experience to keep going. "I remember asking AB to keep me positive, because we were playing so defensively it's easy to creep into your shell and get a bit lazy. I asked him to talk to me every second or third ball."

Twice du Plessis was given out. Both times he reviewed the decisions; both times he made the right call. "It's quite nerve-wracking waiting for the decision but I was confident that I wasn't out," he said.

Batting got easier as the day went on, although du Plessis struggled a bit with the balls that spun after landing in the rough. "If someone like Shane Warne was playing, it would have been impossible, because there was a big rough."

With 70 minutes to go to save the Test, and only the tail for company, du Plessis had to not only manage the discomfort of his cramp but also keep most of the strike. "Mentally I was in such a place where everything inside me didn't want to give it away. I said to the guys coming in, if they want to bowl short to you, just take it. If they hit you in the neck or the face, it doesn't matter. We should just make it really tough for them to get us out." Along with Morne Morkel, du Plessis ensured South Africa didn't concede a series lead.

Du Plessis hopes the good times will keep coming. "I've played enough cricket now to know that when you are riding the wave with runs you've got to make sure you get as much as possible. That's my biggest driving factor now. I want to score as much as I can, and if it lasts me another two games or two years that's something the best batsmen in the world do. They keep scoring big runs. And to try to do that for South Africa is even a bigger motivation."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by xylo on (December 2, 2012, 2:12 GMT)

Faf is to South Africa, what Mike Hussey is to Australia. It is amazing how both these players do not give up, whatever be the situation of the game.

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 16:11 GMT)

Tendulkar's career is going south. All but the blind will see this. Time for a reality check, Mr.Tendulkar. You are still able to conjure up an occasional flash of brilliance, but the days of playing long, dominating, classic innings on a regular basis have passed you by, Sir. Time to hang 'em up a la your former compatriots Dravid, Laxman and Aussie, Ponting. Do the honorable thing and bow out gracefully. Make way for an up and coming youngster. Your contribution to the game has been stellar, but no fan in his right mind would want to see you falling over like Ponting as the ball crashes into the furniture behind you. Good night, Sir.

Posted by 45runs on (December 1, 2012, 13:04 GMT)

No one is a more die-hard passionate Australian supporter than me. But I acknowledge class when I see it, and Faf's 2nd innings in Adelaide was what playing Test cricket for your country is all about. An outstanding effort, and many congratulations to him.

Posted by Prabhash1985 on (December 1, 2012, 12:25 GMT)

You don't understand how much this means not only to the South Africans at your home, but also to us, Sri Lankans... I do not want to describe further... We respect you, your team, your captain, and your country, and we love your players as much as we do to our own team, Sri Lanka.

Posted by its.rachit on (December 1, 2012, 6:25 GMT)

@SCC08 ... we would be discussing Mexican economy and you non indians would bring anti sachin comments into that ... and btw, it was not an indian who brought sachin into the comments ... think before u write .... and ur saying that lillian's point is valid is as ridiculous as lilians comment ... btw, sachin did the same thing as the age of 17 in 1990 england .... read up some cricket history ...

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 5:29 GMT)

This fellow is remarkable. One has to admire his courage, tenacity, character, dedication, skills set and the like. Truly an amazing piece of batting. And to think all these qualities not to mention success were displayed on debut! Congrats to Faf and best wishes for a long and successful cricket career.

Posted by SCC08 on (November 30, 2012, 23:22 GMT)

@Raju - that's rich.. We could talk about Russian football and you Indians will bring up Sachin on this site. Lillians point is valid.

Posted by Unmesh_cric on (November 30, 2012, 22:04 GMT)

Du Plessis showed a lot of grit in that inning..it was an epic knock. Keep it up!

Posted by SarunSahadevan on (November 30, 2012, 16:13 GMT)

@Lillian Thompson.. Faf Du Plesis played a wonderful innings and well done to him. It was worth watching someone not giving up even though the odds were against SA. But comparing him to Tendulkar's entire career is just over the top.

Posted by PPD123 on (November 30, 2012, 16:12 GMT)

@ lillian Thomson - It is absolutely fine for you to put Faf on a pedestal (even though I feel it is premature). I only see him doing a good job in the 1st 1 1/2 tests. WAIT and do not sit on a judgement chair as yet. What I find absolutely ridiculous is you trying to belittle Tendulkar and his contribution to cricket. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I feel your opinion is beyond ridiculous. It also shows that you have not followed the game closely and that you lack common sense... One rearguard action from "Faf or Trevor - equals the entire career of Tendulkar" - does not as much irritate, as it calls for you to get a mental check up done........and fast....

Posted by jb633 on (November 30, 2012, 16:12 GMT)

@satish619chandar- right using my legal background alongside some of my cricketing knowledge I am going to attempt to put an end to the myth that England poach palyers. The Kolpak ruling was brought in as an EU initiative to essentially prevent member states from discriminating against workers who had applicable associations with the EU. The Kolpak laws prevented member states ie England, from placing any quota systems to prejudice against workers from SA, Zimbabwe, Jamica etc. Nottinghamshire did not approach Faf and say "ditch SA or else" but they were complying with the EU laws. I mean if England did not allow Kolpak players to qualify for England after a time scale, then we would be breaching EU law. All the counties of English cricket know that they have to make this opportunity available for their employees by right of law. It is then up to the individuals to decide where their individual loyalties lie. If they decide to stay with their native country then fair enough.

Posted by   on (November 30, 2012, 16:08 GMT)

@Marius: I think you are being harsh on them. He is telling this in a sense that if we love cricket, lets give everything we have. Why 'waste' and study? If he was average and every one including me grows up as very average cricketer says "why waste on cricket? lets study. It is very relative. Just take it in the context. Dont worry about AB or Faf even if they retire today they have so many options like coaching commentary to earn living, you never know AB might be singing as well like Lee. No need to unnecessary dwelve on this point.

In fact, this defines the character of Faf for me. I think the hunger and the ranks he has gone through shows the resolve in his batting. everybody termed him as a ODI or T20 cricketer...Just too happy for Faf

Posted by nrshyam14 on (November 30, 2012, 14:37 GMT)

Faf showed his class in the World T20 conducted recently. He was the person who stood between India and their entry into semi-final.He is an asset for RSA in the years to come. I wish him all luck.

Posted by Raju_Iyer on (November 30, 2012, 13:17 GMT)

To Lillian Thomson : just can't understand why have to bring other cricketers into this, on what basis do you say that they will never achieve, or that it is worth more than someone's entire career. Enjoy every individual's talent , why compare?

Posted by   on (November 30, 2012, 12:41 GMT)

@LillianThomson - Worth "Sachin Tendulkar's entire career". You have impeccable sense of humor man! :D

Good on Faf. He's made his country proud. Let him bask in the glory of one of the great rearguards in modern history!!

Posted by   on (November 30, 2012, 12:37 GMT)

This SA team is an amazing one. Every guy has a story to tell! And each one more inspiring than the other.

And the way the team consists of people from all age, ethnicity and religious affiliation is simply wonderful. How do you not love this team?

Posted by vik56in on (November 30, 2012, 12:22 GMT)

Thanks du Plessis ,for showing everyone what Test cricket is all about!

Posted by Spelele on (November 30, 2012, 10:26 GMT)

Wow! Incredible really :) Absolutely incredible :)

Posted by LillianThomson on (November 30, 2012, 10:19 GMT)

The more I see and read of du Plessis, the greater my admiration for him becomes. There are players with twice his talent (Virat Kohli, Philip Hughes, Ian Bell, Umar Akmal) who will never ever achieve what he has already achieved after one and a half Tests. He should be an inspiration to us all. And he evokes memories of CLR James' famous quote: "What do they of cricket know who only cricket know?". That is why one du Plessis or Trevor Bailey rearguard, or one Keith Miller blitz is worth more than Sachin Tendulkar's entire career. It is the meaning they see in life and the perspective which consequently informs their cricket which allows them to transcend their ability.

Posted by MariusRoodt on (November 30, 2012, 6:51 GMT)

Good article but re3ally don't like the comment that AB de Villiers considered studying a 'waste of time'. Not everybody can be a professional sportsman (and what is AB going to do when he is finished playing cricket, sing?) He is a role model, he should encourage those, even that are good at sport, to also focus on their studies. For every Ab de Villiers there are hundreds of guys who just don't have that extra to become profesional sportsmen. This made me lose a little respect for Faf and AB.

Posted by TORONTO123456 on (November 30, 2012, 5:58 GMT)

Wow great stuff made ..........awesome

Posted by Dcc823 on (November 30, 2012, 5:53 GMT)

Nice and Humble, Its Faf... May u get more and more runs

Posted by   on (November 30, 2012, 5:38 GMT)

a true fighter, gutsy stuff, wish nothing but the best for you

Posted by satish619chandar on (November 30, 2012, 5:20 GMT)

"Faf du Plessis was 21 when Nottinghamshire offered him a Kolpak deal with a conditional clause that said he would have to qualify for England if he accepted" How bad this is for county teams to pouch players who were developed by other country and force them to play for them. Really a bad thing. If that is the case, then Indians could afford to relax some rules and buy almost every fast bowler around with their money. Show some sense counties. If you want more foreigners, just go and relax rules to play 4 instead of current two. Don't force a foreigner to become a local using the money. Glad that Faf didn't fall into the trap and regret it later. Great guy he is to reject some good offers for the country..

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