"Hope can set you free." So goes the famous strapline from The Shawshank Redemption. Then again, according to John Cleese's character in Clockwise, it's the hope that kills you. "Who ever hoped like a cricketer?" That was RC Robertson-Glasgow, the great cricket writer of the mid-20th century.

Now Faf du Plessis has added a new variation on the theme. "Hope is a very dangerous thing," he said, as he mulled the gauntlet South Africa face at this World Cup, after losing their opening three games and suffering a washout in their fourth. His team are "in a position now where we need to win five games in five", starting with Afghanistan in Cardiff on Saturday, and du Plessis has been focusing his players on the need to grab destiny by the lapels rather than just let things run their course.

Who doesn't love a sporting comeback story? Whether it's Mumbai Indians losing five of their first six matches on their way to the 2015 IPL title, or the emotion-sapping turnarounds effected by Liverpool and Tottenham on their way to the Champions League final a few weeks ago; making insurmountable positions surmountable is what great teams do. So where is Faf taking his inspiration from? How does his team rope-a-dope their way to the World Cup title from here?

"I'll keep my secrets to myself," he said with a smile. "No, it's just been checking in with each guy individually, seeing where he or she is, making sure that I make clear to them that there needs to be purpose in what's coming up. You can't just hope for things to change. Hope is a very dangerous thing, try and get yourself out of that space as quickly as possible. Finding different keys in different players, where I feel that they can be better, where they can take more responsibility, more ownership. Trying to unlock players' best that is lying somewhere underneath."

The rain that has bedevilled the tournament over the past week has given du Plessis the chance to hone his motivational patter. South Africa came in playing the chilled-out, under-the-radar card; now it's "backs against the wall" and no room for mistakes. "Everyone has written the team off," said du Plessis, which might be just the motivation they need. "Hopefully that allows guys to come out and play the way that they want and the way that they can. I truly believe if we do that, we'll be a very dangerous team. We just haven't fully unlocked the potential we have in our side.

"We had a bad start to the tournament. But that's done now, we have to make sure we put all our energy and focus into the now and what's coming up next. I truly believe that if we carry those ghosts of the last week with us, it's going to be tough to get out of the hole, so the conversations of the last couple of days, especially with all the rain around, gives me more time to check in with the players, make sure guys are on the right path and have put that week behind them.

"Because you can't be looking back. If we're looking back we're just going to float through this tournament, win one or two games, we're not going to achieve what we want, so the fact there has been a bit of rain has given me clarity on the discussion we have with the team, and I feel that's been really good off the field. In an ideal world, yes, you would like more practice, but also one net session now is not going to make the team play better. It's more the conversations we are having, making sure that we're strong and knowing exactly what we need to do. I felt in the first week the intensity in our play was down, that's not good enough and that's why our results weren't the way we wanted."

South Africa are not yet a certainty for the World Cup knackers yard, but it will take some top-level horse whispering from du Plessis to get them back into the chasing pack for the knockout stage. Still, with his easy manner and relaxed drawl, there is no sign that the pressure is beginning to tell. Rather than animatedly explain "I hate losing", as his predecessor AB de Villiers did after a group defeat in the 2015 tournament, du Plessis is likelier to focus on the positive - or what "raises your tank", as he put it.

"I try and look at myself first and find ways that are my pillars and my keys to being strong. My family, my faith, my positive talking, my visualisation. Those are things that I draw energy from and it's important you spend as much time on things that raise your tank and not spend too much time on things that drain you. I start with myself and then try and speak to the guys about what is it that keeps you in that real place where you feel like you're at your best when playing cricket."

He could also manage to still crack a smile or two, despite admitting this was his biggest challenge leading South Africa. "But I suppose it's what the last two years of captaining the side have prepared you for," he said. "Whether it's for good situations or bad situations, you try and mature as much as you can as a captain, try and be ready for when it's really, really tough, because then your team looks to the leaders in the side. It's a hard time but also a time I'm really owning up to the fact I need to step up and make sure I lead the team in a time when they need me."

Hope might be dangerous. But when du Plessis twinkles, well, who wouldn't want to live dangerously?

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick