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Door still open for Faf du Plessis to make South Africa T20I comeback

Cricket South Africa is set to announce new central contracts, and the board is considering issuing single-format contracts

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Faf du Plessis last played a T20I for South Africa in December 2020  •  Associated Press

Faf du Plessis last played a T20I for South Africa in December 2020  •  Associated Press

An international comeback is still possible for Faf du Plessis, who was not included in South Africa's T20I squad to play West Indies later this month but continues to hold conversations with new white-ball coach Rob Walter.
ESPNcricinfo understands Walter and du Plessis discussed the possibility of the former captain making an imminent return but scheduling and contracting challenges have made it difficult for now. With Cricket South Africa (CSA) set to announce new central contracts later this month, and the idea of single-format contracts being floated, du Plessis could be back in the picture with the 2024 T20 World Cup in mind.
"We have always been open to talks with our freelance players and Rob is very much interested in resuming those conversations," Enoch Nkwe, CSA's Director of Cricket said. "In terms of contracting, us and SACA (the South African Cricketers' Association) are engaging in that aspect to ensure that we remain proactive, because the reality is that a lot is evolving in our cricketing landscape.
"We've got to try our utmost best to be on the front foot. A lot of players are still committed to all three formats but we have some players who are only white ball and some only red ball. What we foresee in the near future, maybe even the next 12 months, is that we might even go more specifically to T20, ODI and Test contracts. Those are some of the things that we're actually looking at."
Du Plessis retired from Test cricket in February 2021 but remained available for selection in white-ball formats. He was not picked for any series including the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cups despite stunning form in leagues across the world.
Since his final Test, du Plessis has played 90 innings in the PSL, CPL, IPL, BPL, BBL and SA20, scoring 2747 runs at 33.91, higher than his overall average of 31.18, including four of his five T20 hundreds.
Nkwe confirmed du Plessis was in talks with CSA about making a comeback for both T20I World Cups but the selection panel at the time, which consisted of Victor Mpitsang and Patrick Moroney, could not come to an agreement.
"There were conversations before the World Cup with the selection panel and the coach and they concluded (without a solution)," Nkwe said. "From a CSA point of view, we are happy to engage and see how we can find the best way forward."
Mpitsang and Moroney were both relieved of their duties after Mark Boucher's coaching tenure with South Africa ended, with selection now the responsibility of the respective head coaches. While that gives Walter more say than Boucher would have had in whether to engage freelancers, it does not solve the primary concerns of fixtures and money, both of which prevented AB de Villiers from returning to play in the 2019 World Cup.
After retiring in 2018, De Villiers had put in a last-minute call to du Plessis, then South Africa's all-format captain, to play the 2019 ODI World Cup. De Villiers' request, however, was declined because he had not played any matches in the lead-up to the tournament, after CSA had asked him to consider participating in at least two out of 10 ODI series before that event.
De Villiers declined for scheduling and financial reasons, and CSA have not solved the problem since. While they would ordinarily offer a non-contracted player a match fee for playing in any games, they now also need to consider compensation if those games fall within the same time frame as a league, where the player could earn more.
Short-term deals, which Nkwe indicated are currently being discussed, would likely make allowances for that gap and remunerate a player enough to choose national duty.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket