Four years ago, Faf du Plessis was flashy and fun-loving, just four matches into an ODI career when South Africa's World Cup began, and full of fight, in the literal sense, when it ended.

Du Plessis was at the vortex of the on-field altercation that fueled South Africa's folding in the quarter-final against New Zealand. He made the foul call for the run that was never on and found himself chest to chest with Kyle Mills.

Four years later, he wants to do it all over again.

"In my perfect world I would like to play New Zealand in the semi-final and have that same situation arise again. But this time it will be the other way around. We'll be the team that's on top, and we can do the same to them," du Plessis said at South Africa's World Cup squad announcement on January 7, where he also promised that flamboyance is now much less of a feature in his game.

"The reason it took me so long to be where I am in my career is that it took me so long to understand that role. There was probably too much flashiness in my cricket."

"So long" is not that long at all. In the four years since making his international debut, du Plessis has nailed down the No.3 spot in both the Test and ODI teams and captains the T20 side but he may be comparing it to when he first chose cricket as a career. Du Plessis made his first-class debut in 2004, when his school friend AB de Villiers made his maiden Test appearance. De Villiers went on to hold the world record for the most number of consecutive Test appearances since debut but du Plessis took the scenic route, via Kolpak, before he was considered for the South Africa team.

He began as a lower-order batsman who was thought to have the ability to hit big and he did not want to blow his chance by proving a wolf in sheep's clothing. But that's what he was. "I've always believed that I'm better up the order but when you come into a team you can't pick where you want to bat, you do what the team needs from you," he said. "I came in at No. 6 and 7, and it wasn't something I was used to. I took two years to understand what to do; how to finish games. Although I understood it better, I don't think I was the best finisher."

On Test debut, du Plessis proved himself more of a resistor. He saved the Adelaide Test and then the Johannesburg one against India and showed he batted best in a crisis. "It's something that started in the Test matches and that's made me a lot more mature as a batsman."

When Jacques Kallis retired and du Plessis was promoted to No.3 in ODIs, he was given the opportunity to become a builder in that format, which is exactly what he knew he was. "I always believed I was more suited up the order so when I got the opportunity it was nice to show that was something I wanted to do - I wanted to score hundreds. No. 3 is my blueprint of batting."

Du Plessis cantered his way to three centuries in a triangular series in Zimbabwe when given the No. 3 role and aims to be a similar bridge between a solid start and a flourishing finish at the World Cup."I understand my role better and it makes my game stronger and makes the team's game stronger," he said. "Quinnie (Quinton de Kock) and Hash (Hashim Amla) are aggressive players, and in Australia you need guys who can take it on. But guys like AB and David Miller also need protection. You don't want them to come in too early."

But de Kock may not be fit in time for the tournament opener which could set du Plessis' plans off. South Africa are experimenting with using Rilee Rossouw in that position but his five ducks from 10 innings may force them to seek more a more secure option like du Plessis. He has already indicated he is willing to do the job.

"No. 3 and opening is almost the same. Now that I've had the opportunity to bat at No. 3, I don't see opening as an issue."

A much bigger issue is how South Africa plan to get their hands on the trophy that has eluded them thus far. They have had the longest build-up period of all their competitors with a six-month preparation and the most number of matches but du Plessis thinks those on-field activities will take a back seat. "Something we're looking at more now is what we have outside of cricket. In terms of off the cricket field, we probably have the best cricket environment you could ask for," he said. "That's something I would tip as that 5% extra that perhaps we didn't have in the past."

Although no blame was ever laid at du Plessis' door after 2011, particularly not by his team-mates, his reaction during the run-out was thought to symbolise the South African mindset. They got het up too easily and could be out-thought and chastised at will. But for du Plessis, it indicated none of those things.

"That moment taught me a lot about myself. I learnt a lot about international cricket. I had always thought I enjoyed a challenge, but after that day I knew that I enjoyed a challenge. When there's pressure or when it's tough I like to try and stand up for the team. I learnt a lot about myself when I didn't stand back to those guys.

"They targeted me as a youngster, so that is the advice I would give guys going to this World Cup. Some teams target guys who are younger and less experienced. New Zealand are brilliant at that, the Aussies as well." If du Plessis is ready to deal with New Zealand, maybe he is eyeing Michael Clarke's men for the final.