<
>

Du Plessis rewarded for trusting in grit

play
'Played according to my game-plan' - du Plessis (1:54)

South Africa captain Faf du Plessis praises his team's performance after day two of thier second Test match against New Zealand (1:54)

Faf du Plessis' style of batting is not for everyone. It is especially not for high-adrenaline, instant-gratification seekers, many of whom watch Test cricket and wonder why it does not play out more like T20.

"Leave, leave, block, edge, leave, leave, block."

"A strike rate below 50 after 100-odd balls is just being negative."

"Is Faf showing any intent to score runs?! I really can't see any positives in getting a 50 off 200 balls. Runs on the board, yes, but any other batsmen would have put the game to bed in that space of time. Add to that the boredom factor."

Those were some of the comments that came into ESPNcricinfo's very own commentary feedback. Du Plessis never looked as though he was batting freely, his strike rate only stuttered into life in the 15 balls he faced between 60 and 80 and finished on 47, and he had the biggest crowd of the series to entertain at his home ground but he could explain why he approached his innings with caution.

"When I score big runs in Test cricket, it's when I play those gritty innings and mentally tire the opposition out," du Plessis said. "I had to make sure I knuckle down to my gameplan and wait for the bowlers to bowl in my area."

The pressure to post a decent score lay squarely at du Plessis' door for a handful of reasons. He had gone two years and 16 innings without a century. He had been dropped because of that lack of form. He had been recalled as a stand-in captain for this series and was expected to lead from the front. He had underperformed in the first Test in Durban. And he said he knew that all South Africa needed was for someone to convert a start into a hundred to take control. As it turned out, he had to be that person.

"We needed one guy to anchor the innings and keep them out there for as long as possible," he said. "The plan was to get to 400."

After the start Stephen Cook and Quinton de Kock provided and the support from Hashim Amla, it was up to du Plessis to stretch the innings out as far as he could. In conditions where the ball moved and against bowlers who sprinkled their spells with unplayable deliveries, the only way for du Plessis to do that was to play within himself.

In the same way as Dale Steyn does not want to go from zero to 200kph, du Plessis did not want to play all his shots. Not until the time was right. When du Plessis temporarily accelerated, it was when his former primary school-mate Neil Wagner was hurling down a succession of short balls. "He got me going because he is aggressive," du Plessis said, while admitting that the history between them may also have played a role in the authority he wanted to assert.

"I didn't want to get out to anyone but I read last night that he was determined to get me out so maybe that made me determined not to get out to him," he said. "I was just really focused on trying to value my wicket. I was trying to put a huge price on it."

That is something du Plessis has become known for since he made his Test debut. In Adelaide in November 2012, he had a match to save, and in doing so showed a stickability he has revealed plenty of times since. As long as he has someone else to spice things up, it is not a bad quality to have.

Usually, that person would be AB de Villiers, but that person could become JP Duminy. He was promoted to No.4 for the series and after he also answered his critics, he may be given more license to bat aggressively in future. "We are trying to be more positive in our thinking and that's why we told JP he is batting four," du Plessis said. "I see JP as a hugely talented batsman and we wanted to give him that confidence as a coach and captain that we back you and believe in you."

Duminy fell 12 short of a century and du Plessis believes there is more to come from both of them in future. "You can see when a guy is in good touch and he is playing positively and JP will be the first guy to say that's something he has changed. Hopefully this will be the start if a new JP. And for me, it's important that I score hundreds so it was nice to get those runs and prove to my critics that I still belong here."

Not everyone will like it but maybe not everyone has to.