World T20 2014 March 15, 2014

South Africa enjoy the benefits of mature du Plessis

Faf du Plessis was the natural choice to take over South Africa's T20 side, and he did not disappoint, quickly moulding them into a winning unit in subcontinent conditions. They'll be hoping for more of the same in Bangladesh

Professional cricketers are people too and you need look no further than Faf du Plessis for proof of that. He is one of cricket's more grown-up, engaging and likeable sons. If you run into him beyond the boundary, you can have a pleasant chat about anything from fashion and food to travel and tactics on a cricket field.

He has matured from the bashful youngster who two years and 355 days ago, left Dhaka with bruises from his first playground punch-up and a broken heart from another World Cup choke. Du Plessis ran out AB de Villiers at a crucial stage in the quarter-final and emotions were running high when Kyle Mills said something du Plessis didn't like. The on-field altercation included a shoulder charge from du Plessis and a lot of jeering from the New Zealand fielders, who saw an easy way to get under South Africa's skin.

That du Plessis was a little rasher and a little more hotheaded than the du Plessis you will meet today, but he still knows how to rub opposition up the wrong way. It was du Plessis who did not contest a charge of ball tampering in the second Test in the UAE against Pakistan last November when he was found to be shining the red cherry too close to his zip pocket. It was du Plessis who stopped just short of accusing Australia of doing a similar thing in the recently completed Test series in South Africa.

After the third day's play in Cape Town, in which du Plessis had copped on-field verbals for picking up the ball while batting, he said the Australian fielders were like a "pack of dogs" when anyone else approached the ball. They promptly howled him off the field when they finally dismissed him in the second innings.

But he also knows how to earn respect. Du Plessis has saved South Africa Tests twice; Tests which demoralised their opposition and allowed them to win series. That may automatically categorise him as a long-form player, but don't forget that he first made his name in limited-overs cricket.

Although du Plessis has been dropped from South Africa's one-day squad following a run of poor form, that was the format he made his debut in and rose to prominence in. That was the format that got him recognised because that was format he was asked to deputise as captain in when AB de Villiers was suspended for slow over rates.

When de Villiers struggled to lead in both shorter formats, du Plessis was the natural choice to take over the T20 side even though he had only played in it four times. Immediately he introduced structure and immediately, the results came. In his first game in charge, South Africa dominated a New Zealand side that would later beat them in an ODI series. By then du Plessis' team had already won the T20s.

He was dealing with the same shifts in team composition as de Villiers - the first XI du Plessis captained included Richard Levi and Robin Peterson, neither of whom feature now - but he seemed to be able to mould it into shape more easily. When South Africa went down 4-1 in an ODI series in Sri Lanka and morale was thought to be at all-time low, du Plessis led them to a 2-1 T20 series win on the island. He found his formula and he found how to make it work.

After they beat Pakistan away as well, South Africa's preparation for the World T20 looked to be on the perfect path. They defeated subcontinent sides in their own conditions which could only bode well for a major tournament in the subcontinent in which they will face at least one of these same sides (Sri Lanka) and possibly others as the event goes on.

That may be why the recent form - a shared home series against Pakistan and a heavy loss to Australia - is not weighing on du Plessis mind too heavily. "The confidence is still pretty high," he said. "You can only reflect on the conditions we are going to play in now and we've had good success there."

But have they? South Africa were the best team in their group at the 2011 World Cup and the only one to dismiss their opposition in all six games they played. Their quarter-final draw was thought to be one of the kinder ones and still, they could not win a knockout game.

The same thing that got to them in the past, got to them then: pressure. At least this time they don't have as much of it and Russell Domingo thinks that can only be a good sign. "T20 cricket has a lot to do with confidence," he said. "South Africa have gone to World Cups before extremely confident and playing extremely well and come unstuck. So maybe this is a good omen for us." Du Plessis will certainly hope so.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent