In this world, nothing is certain except death, taxes, and South Africa failing to win a World Cup. Faf and ABD know this too well. South African fans know this too well. The 2015 semi-final still hurts (as if the 1999, 1992, 2007, and 2011 World Cups were not bad enough).
Just to rub salt in the wound, even England (and kind of New Zealand) won in 2019 while South Africa endured a dismal campaign.Embed from Getty Images
This image still resonates. Dale Steyn on his knee, Grant Elliot in a moment of great sportsmanship. On the other side, captain AB de Villiers in tears and Morne Morkel—completely shattered.
Faf and ABD: Tale of Two Heroes
Fast forward to September 2020. The IPL is back. So are Faf and ABD.
Usually it is the West Indians who dominate T20 leagues, but this IPL has been South Africa’s so far. In IPL 2020, Anrich Nortje has been a revelation, while Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock continue to show the world why they are South Africa’s torchbearers to the next generation.
Initially, I was going to write two separate articles about Abraham de Villiers and Francois du Plessis, but that is not possible. You just cannot separate them. They are like brothers from another mothers. If AB is the graceful artist, Faf is the resilient leader. Both are legends of South African cricket.
Today we will talk their careers, their friendship, the heartbreak, what could have been, and what could still be.
While AB De Villiers has retired from international cricket (for the time being), Faf continues on. Can Faf fulfill the broken dream of ABD and win South Africa a trophy?
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AB de Villers and Faf Du Plessis have been competing on and off the cricket field since middle school. They both went to the same school and university – Afrikaans High School (Affies) and University of Pretoria respectively. Over the years, their friendship has evolved with AB becoming Faf’s best man in his wedding.
Although their personal lives carried smoothly, their careers took vastly different routes.
The South African team under Graeme Smith was the only team that could challenge Australia at their home and would rise to the No.1 Test rankings. With the great Jacques Kallis, Boucher, Ntini, and Pollock, breaking into this team was not an easy task. AB was recognized early as a prospect and was tracked into the national team in 2004. In a couple of years’ time, he had established himself and by 2008, the Perth special guaranteed his journey into greatness.
On the other hand, Faf had to toil his way through domestic cricket, season after season. He even temporarily played in England with a Kolpak deal. Although Faf was becoming disillusioned, AB encouraged him to keep the hope alive with the imminent retirements of Smith and Kallis.
7 years after AB, finally Faf’s day came. It started with an epic.
Faf du Plessis had to wait for his turn in international cricket. When he did get his turn, he took his chance and followed a first innings 78 with a valiant fourth innings match-saving century against Australia in Adelaide.
Ab De Villiers will go down as one of the All-Time greatest ODI players. Not only is his statistics out of the world – an average above 50 and strike rate above 100, it is the manner in which he changed the game. He was an innovator with his unconventional shots and created the idea of a “360 degree player.” A versatile cricketer, he could adapt to any format, situation, or challenge at hand. He could score 149*(44) or defend 43(354) in a blockathon. Apart from his batting, he can keep wickets, field in any position, and captain.
Retired from international cricket in 2018 and is a star at RCB.
Records: Fastest ODI 50/100/150, 78 test innings without a duck (most), South Africa’s 2nd highest ODI run scorer and fourth highest test run scorer.
- Test: 114 matches, 8765 runs, average 50.66, best of 278*, 22-1 00s/46-50s
- ODI: 228 matches, 9577 runs, average 53.50, 101.90 strike rate, best of 176, 25-100s/53-50s
- T20I: 78 matches, 1672 runs, average 26.10, 135.16 strike rate, best of 79*, 10-50s
Faf is one of the most underrated batsman in the current era. He is known for his strong character through his ability to counter tough situations. Like AB, he easily adapts between formats, from blockathons and saving Test matches to becoming a successful T20 batsman with shots like the scoop. Although he is a dependable batsman, he is known for his captaincy – the ability to guide South Africa through tough rebuilding phases as well as the reformation time. And of course, his fielding.
Records: Centuries in all formats as a captain, first player to score century in a day-night Test
- Test: 65 matches, 3901 runs, average 39.80, best of 137, 9-100s/21-50s
- ODI: 143 matches, 5507 runs, average 47.47, 88.60 strike rate, best of 185, 12-100s/35-50s
- T20I: 47 matches, 1407 runs, average 34.31, 134.12 strike rate, best of 119, 1-100/8-50s
The Match That Broke South Africa
24 March, 2015. New Zealand vs. South Africa at Auckland. The Proteas were arguably the favorites. Since South Africa were in the semi-finals, there had to be the obligatory rain and net run-rate calculations.
South Africa posted an excellent total with Faf, ABD, and Miller finishing the innings well. In response, McCullum blazed away against Dale Steyn, briefly collapsed, and recovered with the Grant Elliot-Corey Anderson steady partnership. Five needed in two, and Elliot hit Dale Steyn over long on for the victory.
A once-in-a-lifetime special innings from Grant Elliot. Grant Elliot, superman.
The great South African generation broke down, both mentally and physically. It was a slow degeneration over the next four years.
Kyle Abbott picked the Kolpak route as a direct result of being dropped for Vernon Philander on the eve of the match due to political pressure and the quota system. Other talents like Rilee Rossouw, Simon Harmer, and Duanne Olivier would follow.
Vernon Philander himself would wane off in a couple of years. Dale Steyn, a fast bowler who was rarely injured for over a decade began picking up freak injuries. Morne retired from international cricket early for Kolpak while ABD retired early to manage T20 leagues loads, a year before the 2019 World Cup.
2019 was a disaster. Numerous injuries, media reports, and the end of illustrious careers of Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, and Imran Tahir.
Only Faf du Plessis survived. Barely.
Faf symbolizes resilience and commitment. After the crushing 2019 campaign, Faf had the choice to hang up his boots but he decided to give back to South African cricket.
The rest of the golden era had retired. What did Faf do? He remained in the game and stayed as captain to absorb all the pressure and criticism. He worked extremely hard, transitioned towards a new team, and inspired the youngsters around him. All with a smile.
Since Faf had to wait seven more years for a South African cap, he cherished every moment as a South African cricketer and realized the struggle of others that have to wait in the wings or are thinking about going to England.
AB De Villiers was the catalyst to South Africa’s fortunes and changed cricket forever with his inventive batting. His premature retirement and the controversies around picking and choosing gained a lot of traction among critics and fans alike, but he had a point. More than anything, he was a victim of an overkill of cricket—it does take a physical and mental toll on you. He gave 14 years to South Africa, playing all formats continuously, and we should appreciate that.
What Can We Learn?
Cricket is unpredictable, a dropped catch or run-out can change the game. Similarly, life is unpredictable. Sometimes the best do not end up victorious, but how an individual responds to tough situations is important.
Faf just never gave up. Whether saving a test match, dealing with ball-tampering allegations, or managing captaincy issues, he just never gave up. Even if the ball is traveling with speed and is seemingly going for a six, just keep your nerve and hang on. You never know, you may pull off a catch.
What does ABD teaches us? Never stop learning and improving. He was regarded as the future of South Africa pretty early on, and he put in everything for them. He kept wickets despite back injuries, opened the batting, finished innings, and captained tough situations, and learned to evolve with time.
Your only competition is with you. Even when AB was at his best, he continued to reinvent self. Your best can always get better.
They both did it differently, but Faf and AB have been inspirational in their own rights. When they batted together, you realized that South Africa was in good hands. They were just a delight to watch, and we hope the very best to them and South Africa in the future.
Where can the Proteas go from here?
Although domestic talent is continuously drained into the Kolpak system, the quota system has been controversial, and systemic discrimination has to be dealt with, all is not lost.
This IPL has shown that Faf is ever dependable, ABD still has some magic, and de Kock is ready to take more responsibility. With stars in Kagiso Rabada, Nortje, and Chris Morris, who knows, 2021 T20 World Cup is where South Africa bounces back.
For South Africa to succeed in 2021, Faf needs ABD, and ABD needs Faf. South Africa and cricket fans around the world— we want them both together, one final time.
Comment below on your thoughts about the article or your favorite memories of AB De Villiers and Faf Du Plessis.