Faf du Plessis (left) celebrates his century with AB de Villiers © AFP
Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers keep going from strength to strength, and are scaling new peaks for South Africa. R Vishal looks at four breathtaking partnerships between the pair that the game has been privileged to witness over the last few years.
Partners in crime: a world liberally thrown around for players joining hands and decimating an opposition. In this scenario, it is not just the quality of cricket or the landmarks alone that are in focus. Camaraderie plays a very important part as well, and one has to look beyond the realms of the game to unearth that. It cannot be forced. In modern day cricket, the duo of Rahul Dravid – VVS Laxman and the indomitable Sri Lankan pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara epitomise that.
Sadly for fans of the game, the Dravid – Laxman combination has walked into the sunset, and the Sangakkara-Jayawardene pair are in the last leg of churning out herculean feats in the centre. In the peaks of their careers now, the torch has crossed shores from the subcontinent to Cape Town, South Africa in the form of AB de Villiers and Faf Du Plessis.
Hailing from Afrikaner households, they attended the same school, had the same coaches, and were neighbours too. While de Villiers’s career took off early — shortly after he reached 20, du Plessis was a globetrotter and nearly played for England before getting the nod in his late twenties. Here is a look back at some of their best partnerships:
1. New Zealand vs South Africa at Wellington (ODI), January 2012
This could well be the first page of de Villiers and du Plessis’ glorious chapter. In the first match of the bilateral ODI series, South Africa had lost their top order and were facing a backs-to-the-wall situation when the well set de Villiers was joined by du Plessis, who was still a rookie international. Still needing around 130 from 25 overs to win the game, the two amigos blasted away to glory. de Villiers walked away with the plaudits for scoring a century, but Du Plessis savagery was equally important to South Africa’s win.
2. Australia vs South Africa at Adelaide (Test), November 2012
While the earlier knocks highlighted the flair of the batsmen, this was a scenario out of their comfort zone. Both are natural stroke-makers gunning for boundaries, but Australia had outplayed South Africa for four days in the Test match. Chasing a mammoth 430 in the fourth innings for victory, the Proteas were on the mat at 45 for four. Victory was out of the question, and blocking away till the opponents wilt was the chosen approach. The Aussies threw everything they had at the duo. The flair had vanished, and it was concentration, defence and endurance that had to take their team to safety. The seamers were getting assistance from the pitch too. Australia waited with bated breath for 68 overs, as three-fourths of the final day was complete. Though the partnership accounted only for just 98 runs, South Africa managed to eke out an improbable draw. This was certainly one of the great escapes in recent times.
3. South Africa vs India at Johannesburg (Test), December 2013
This Test will surely be remembered as one of greatest Test matches of all time for the simple reason that four results were possible as the match headed for a nail-biting finish on the fifth day. Yet again, South Africa were chasing a mammoth fourth innings score of 458 to win the game. Mohammed Shami had put India in command at the end of Day four, and a repeat of their feats in Adelaide was needed by de Villiers and du Plessis. The two men took the Indians by surprise and launched a counter-attack. They had decided to chase the total down and both batsmen butchered the Indian attack by Tea to put South Africa in sight of victory. After their 205-run partnership was broken down, South Africa were happy to play out a draw rather than recording the highest ever chase in Test history.
4. South Africa vs Australia at Harare (ODI), August 2014
Australia belted the South African bowlers to get to a humongous 327. Things were looking ominous when openers Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla perished to leave South Africa at 51 for two in nine overs. This time du Plessis was playing at No 3 and de Villiers at four. The size of the task looked daunting — even by the indomitable duo’s standards. With a mountain to climb, the required run rate was a touch over seven. Off they went with the task, treating Mitchell Johnson and co. like a group of club bowlers thrown in a championship final. The 206-run partnership was du Plessis and de Villiers’ biggest overall, and it came off just 180 balls. Suffering from cramps in his 80’s, de Villiers virtually batted with one leg from there on and this breathtaking knock and would rank amongst his finest. On the other hand, du Plessis was the one who set the tone, though both batsmen registered their respective hundreds. After du Plessis’ dismissal, de Villiers stayed till the end to take South Africa home with 18 balls to spare.
(R Vishal is a journalist, beach lover, Chelsea FC fan and a wannabe globetrotter. Being a loyal student of the Tariq Iqbal school of cricket stopped him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a cricketer. Now, he just writes and talks about the game; He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)