Zimbabwe v South Africa, 3rd ODI, Bulawayo August 20, 2014

Faf du Plessis happy to go slow

Faf du Plessis hasn't indulged in too many big hits this series © AFP

One-day batting strategies changed from shortened versions of a Test match approaches to longer versions of what would later become the T20 way through Sri Lanka in the 1990s. Their aggression made a score of around 90 runs in 15 overs seem commonplace. Today eight, nine and even ten runs an over is considered manageable, or as Zimbabwe's captain Elton Chigumbura has twice said, "easy to get with wickets in hand."

But there is one man who has rolled back the years on all of this: Faf du Plessis.

Of South Africa's current ODI batsman who have more than 1,000 ODI runs to their name, du Plessis' strike rate is the lowest. It sits at 82.83, which is not actually that low at all but less than AB de Villiers' 94.63 and Hashim Amla's 90. It's dipped even more the ongoing Zimbabwe series to 76.51, the lowest in the South African team but du Plessis is content with building stability and allowing the rest of his team to top-up the total.

"My role specifically for the No. 3 position is to anchor the innings, to be as solid as possible and to allow the other guys to play with freedom," du Plessis said. "If my role was to play with freedom then I would do that. But my role in this team at No. 3 is to try and stay there with those stroke-players."

In just two matches in that position, du Plessis had already done the stonewalling job successfully twice.

In the first ODI against Zimbabwe, he was only needed after 20 overs thanks to a century opening stand but when du Plessis arrived at the crease, conditions were getting tougher for batting. The ball had begun to spin and Zimbabwe's spinners were turning the screws. Du Plessis 59 came off 77 balls and included a period of 17 boundary-less overs but his go-slow created the platform for a final assault. South Africa took 101 runs off the last 10 overs to mount a match-winning total.

In the second match, the situation was more precarious. South Africa lost one of their openers in the eighth over and although conditions were less challenging, the opposition had their tails up. Even as du Plessis was settling in, both Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers were dismissed leaving du Plessis with a repair job on his hands. With JP Duminy, he dragged South Africa through the next 11 overs in which they only found 39 runs and then pulled David Miller through another nine, that yielded just 38 runs. In the end, du Plessis' 55 off 72 balls was the joint top-score of the match and just about the difference between the two sides.

"The No. 3 position allows me to plan my game-plan, and it also suits the team," du Plessis said. "We've got some really exciting strokeplayers, and the No. 3 holds that position where you almost gel them together. With AB coming in at four and JP at five six, I can put that foundation for them."

So far neither de Villiers nor Duminy have been able to take full advantage of the firm ground du Plessis has put them on but he has vowed not to change his approach, irrespective of the series being won and the opposition demoralised. "It's very important that we don't focus on the opposition. We want to be No. 1 in the world. We've got very high standards for ourselves as a group and we understand that means we have to play as professionally as you can at all times," he said. "So we don't take Zimbabwe lightly at all."

He certainly has not and he has been rewarded for the earnestness with which he has approached his task. Du Plessis twin half-centuries have put him just 23 runs behind Hashim Amla in the series overall and with Amla being rested for the final game, du Plessis has the opportunity to over-take him. Be warned, it may take a while.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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  • ESPN on August 21, 2014, 13:20 GMT

    @Greatest_Game. I agree that SA did have a great side between 1996-2000 as I saw a few ODI' s between Aus and SA during that time and we copped a few beatings but you can't really call it dominance as SA never won the 96 or 99 World Cup during that time, although had the semi not been a tie then I'm sure SA would have won it in 99. Trying not to sound arrogant but dominance in ODI's is what Australia did by winning 3 world cups in a row and being unbeaten for 30 World Cup games through 2 world cups as that was on the biggest stage of all.

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2014, 12:05 GMT

    A Greatest_Game Please cool it with the embarrassing hero worship of Hansie. It's cringe worthy - the rest of the world is watching.

    Perhaps I didn't spell out, my comments weren't about one game (the last one) where obviously Faf played the situation correctly. My point is that he seems fairly committed to being conservative and not getting out, which is wrong IMO.Being positive is not about scoring 20 off 15, all of the best ODI batters had the ability to score at a good rate, without being stupid. Best batter at 3, always, that way you have best possible influence on a team innings. I don't think Faf is that guy. As an aside, moving Amla to 4 in tests is also stupid for the same reason, but that was captain's prerogative obviously.

    As for AB as captain, agreed, not sold on it at all. Faf didn't get it because he's not a proven quality in this format. So who else if Amla is not being lumped with both at the same time? There really isn't anyone amongst the first choice players

  • ESPN on August 21, 2014, 5:42 GMT

    I'm all for the old saying if it ain't broke then don't fix it! As long as SA are winning (like they are) then I don't see what the problem is. He is a good enough batsmen so I'm sure if he needed to throw the bat then he would.

  • Android on August 20, 2014, 20:30 GMT

    what faf is saying here does not give me confidence. This is same approach that caused Sa not to win knock out matches. we saw same approach in the last T20 world cup with players looking to occupy the crease and hoping AB or Miller can pull a rabbit out of the

  • David on August 20, 2014, 18:08 GMT

    @ Manie Meyer Is it better to have someone who scores 50 off 75 balls, or 20 off 15 balls? Or is it better to have AB score 1 & then run himself out in perhaps the most stupid piece of cricket I have ever seen. Hash lost his head, QdK lost his head, AB left his head in the dressing room… but Faf kept his head and pulled the innings together for SA on a difficult pitch.

    You have been watching too much IPL.

    From May 1996 to Feb 2000 SA was the highest ranked ODI team in the world. (ICC retrospective rankings.) Their win/loss ratio a huge 3.68. 107 matches, 87 wins, 22 losses. Against Aus, SA played 19, won 11, lost 7. Tied 1!

    Kallis played in that team. Kallis became the anchor of that team. They did fine with him. What made them winners was Hansie Cronje! Their period of dominance began and ended with his captaincy, his last Match in March 2000.

    It was not the anchor, or lack of anchor, that made that winning team. It was the LEADER! He inspired them to win! Worry about AB, not Faf!

  • Khehla on August 20, 2014, 18:07 GMT

    Honestly, don't have a problem with Faf playing the "anchor role" but that doesn't mean purposefully batting slowly. I'd like for Faf to rotate the strike more frequently thus have a low dot-ball percentage. This would put less pressure on the others and help in amassing larger scores. Additionally, Faf has the shots, we've seen them in the T20s where he's done quite well, I just hope he finds the right balance between attack and defense. That said, if one were to go purely on performance Faf with an average of 28 wouldn't and shouldn't be on the team. He has lots to prove.

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2014, 16:11 GMT

    Not sure this fills me with great confidence or hope. It smacks of SA's age old rigidity in their approach. Sure they will say its all about 'working your plan', 'executing your skills' etc. but the ability to assess, adapt and impose yourself is what wins big games, and dare I say it, World Cups. Look at India under Gary Kirsten or Aus with Ponting at 3, they won more often than not because the only preconceived ideas they had was to look at placing pressure on the opposition, looking to score runs. They did not look to 'be solid' and 'not get'. There is every chance I might be wrong (and as an SA fan, I hope I am) but it just reminds me of (too) many rigid and conservative strategies I've heard from the SA camp before. Scoring 50 off 75 balls is not the way you win games in 2014.

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