South African captains have previously returned from major tournaments red-faced. Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers have had to explain why the teams they led crashed out in varyingly curious or embarrassing ways.
Faf du Plessis came back rosy cheeked. Even though the group he was in charge of did not bring home the thing South African supporters wanted most - a trophy - they learned a lesson which du Plessis believes will ensure they capture a cup in the near future.
"Previously we deserved a lot of criticism we got for the way we played in big moments. But now this team has showed we can perform under high pressure," du Plessis said. "To get 170 in the semi-final after losing a wicket in the first over was a really good effort. In terms of playing big moments, this team has showed we can also do it."
South Africa's batting has been their Achilles' heel in major tournaments in the past. At the Champions Trophy last June, despite batting fairly well throughout the event, they slipped to 80 for 8 in the semi-final against England before staging a small recovery while their stumbling in their chasing a modest 222 against New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup in Dhaka remains fresh in the mind.
When du Plessis arrived at the Shere Bangla Stadium to prepare for South Africa's shootout against India, "the first thing I thought about was my scrum in the middle with the New Zealand players that day," he said. Du Plessis was involved with the run-out of AB de Villiers that derailed the chase, back in 2011, and was involved in an on-field altercation with Kyle Mills which was the first sign of South Africa's implosion.
Even though that was more three years ago and du Plessis was a relative rookie at the time, the experience was fresh in his mind. South Africa wanted to guard against the mistakes they had made that day, and their many other fluffs before the final hurdle in previous tournaments. "Because we played the first week in Chittagong, we felt very confident when we went to Dhaka," du Plessis said. "The past experience wasn't too much of a factor so I didn't feel it necessary to talk too much about it."
But when Quinton de Kock was dismissed at the end of the first over, to cap off a underwhelming showing in what du Plessis dubbed "the most pressure he has played under," South Africa could have unraveled. Du Plessis was the next man in and knew he could not repeat the 2011 episode. He built partnerships with Hashim Amla and JP Duminy and South Africa posted what he thought was a winning total.
It went wrong in the field where "too many extras," cost South Africa and although du Plessis is concerned about the wides, he does not want that to detract from the way his team defended totals in their other three matches. South Africa's matches against New Zealand, Netherlands and England went deep and they left it late to assert themselves.
That they could set themselves up for a final assault through the man du Plessis said he considers South Africa's man of the tournament, Imran Tahir, and could then close the deal with Dale Steyn represents progress for both du Plessis and coach Russell Domingo. Another South African side would not have won matches they seemed destined to lose. This one did and that experience will stand them in good stead for tournaments to come, starting with fifty-over World Cup next year.
Du Plessis is not currently part of South Africa's ODI set-up, after he was dropped ahead of the India series last December, but he hopes the door will still be open for him. He said one of the primary issues confronting the team's preparation for the tournament is squad certainty, which will largely depend on the availability of Jacques Kallis. The all-rounder remains interested in turning out at the event and will play in most of the almost 30 ODIs South Africa have planned before the competition to work on combinations.
For once, that could be the only thing South Africa have to worry about because the a lot of the extensive mental preparation they usually do would have been taken care of at this World T20. "I am very happy with the team's performances. Apart from not winning, I was really proud of how everyone performed. For me it wasn't a disappointment. We've proven to ourselves we can play in big moments," du Plessis said.
South Africa have seen first-hand that it can be done. They also watched Sri Lanka break an 18-year trophy drought to earn another title and du Plessis, in particular, was heartened by Sri Lanka's performance. "I was very happy for Sri Lanka. I thought India were too strong for them but they proved me wrong. Where Sri Lanka did well is that they restricted India's powerhouse batting," he said. "I am really happy that they also had a chance to win something." Now he will hope that South Africa, like Sri Lanka, will not have to lose in five finals before they finally win one.