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Liam Brickhill in Harare
August 27, 2014
The second match of the Zimbabwe tri-series didn't have quite the prestige of Foreman v Ali in Kinshasa, but Harare Sports Club rumbled well enough this afternoon with what was the largest crowd of the year. South Africa v Australia has given the international cricket-watching public some truly memorable battles over the years, including probably the two best one-day matches of all time in the 438 game at the Wanderers in 2006 and the Edgbaston thriller at the 1999 World Cup.
South Africa's seven-wicket win today won't be remembered in the same vein, though it was heartily cheered by a throng of spectators who quickly decided where their allegiances lay - with big brother from over the Limpopo - and made their choice known with vuvuzelas and repeated renditions of the South African sporting anthem 'Shosholoza'. It was also a day that Faf du Plessis is unlikely to forget.
Du Plessis famously ground out a Test century on debut to save the Adelaide Test match for South Africa in November 2012, but what was perceived as similarly attritional batting in one-day cricket had put him under immense pressure. It's taken him 51 matches to reach an ODI ton - and that at a strike rate of better than a run a ball - and given the amount of flak he's received in the interim it was surprising that his celebration upon reaching the landmark was so muted.
"It's a great feeling - it's been a long time coming," du Plessis said. "I want to make this No. 3 position my own. I've played most of my one-day cricket at No. 6 so I guess you don't get as many opportunities to score hundreds there, but now with my new role it's very important for me to make sure I get those hundreds.
"In the series against Zimbabwe I batted really well but I didn't convert so that was a great pleasure for me. The celebration might have been short but there was a lot of emotion going through it. I felt there was a lot to do still. But I'm very happy - to get your first Test hundred and your first ODI hundred against Australia is a great achievement for me."
The pride in AB de Villiers' voice as he spoke about his team-mate's achievement was clearly evident, and there's every reason for the two men to revel in each other's successes. They've played on the same sides since their teenage years at Afrikaans Hoer Seunskool, on through the Titans franchise and now for South Africa across formats. De Villiers will also know a little something about what du Plessis has been through, having waited more than two years for his own maiden ODI ton.
|He's definitely our rock - he has been for the last while and he's playing unbelievable cricket at the moment. He's just proved a lot of people wrong, although I know that's not why he plays the game. AB de Villiers on Faf du Plessis|
"He's been under a lot of pressure from a lot of people in the ODI format, so for him to score that hundred today… We've always had a lot of belief in him as a player," de Villiers said. "He's definitely our rock - he has been for the last while and he's playing unbelievable cricket at the moment. He's just proved a lot of people wrong, although I know that's not why he plays the game."
"We've played a lot of cricket together and we understand each others' games really well, so at times where AB thinks he knows what's going through my mind he speaks to me about it and then I take it on board," du Plessis added. "The same with him - I can see when he's looking to score runs and it's maybe not needed. We talk to each other and there's a huge amount of respect for that relationship. It's great to have batted together in school cricket and then to be playing for your country against Australia."
The du Plessis-de Villiers rope-a-dope quickly tired out the six-man Australia pace attack who were made to toil long and hard in the afternoon sunshine as the pair put on 206 for the third wicket. Bouncers were evaded, pressure absorbed, and when it came to the crunch it was Australia who flagged first - dropping de Villiers twice in the space of two overs to allow him to land the knockout blow with an 18th one-day hundred, cheered on by a crowd that became increasingly partisan as the match wore on.
South Africa aren't the greatest one-day side of all time, but in de Villiers they undoubtedly have one of the best limited-overs batsmen to have played the game. He might have chosen rugby, golf or tennis as a profession but - to the infinite betterment of South African cricket - he chose this game of willow, leather and flannel. Beyond the kind words offered to him by his long-time team-mate du Plessis, it's telling that even the Australians were willing to give credit where it was due.
"We've got to give a little bit of credit to Faf and AB, I thought they batted beautifully," Bailey said. "De Villiers is difficult to set a field to. He's a nice batter. Having said that we did put down a couple of reasonably easy chances, which could have made the game a little different. I think he's probably the best one-day batsman in the world, and you could see why that is today."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape TownFeeds: Liam Brickhill
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