Francois du Plessis, fondly known as Faf, is South Africa's captain cool that might never have been. Having signed a Kolpak deal with Lancashire, Faf had initially decided to go the way of professional cricket. However, as fate would have it, the implementation of a new immigration policy resulted in du Plessis being unable to fulfill his duties as a Kolpak player.
Upon his return to the South African fold, he had a prolific season in 2010 for the Titans (567 runs in 10 matches) in the MTN Pro40 competition, including three centuries in as many matches as he started to knock on the doors of the national selectors.
Du Plessis's calm and composed approach at the center ensured that he was a perfect fit for international cricket - especially in a side that has had the 'ch**ers' label sticking to them since before one can remember. An orthodox, all-conditions technique and a dogged approach at the crease makes him an asset in the age of T20 cricket. Moreover, his ability to strike it big is a testament to the versatility of the man. After marking his ODI debut against India with a composed 50 in January 2011, he continued his good form in the World Cup, notably steering his side to victory in a high-pressure run-chase against eventual World Champions, India.
After a long wait for the coveted Test cap, du Plessis was finally awarded a place in the side on the tour to Australia. And then it happened. The career-defining knock. In Adelaide, under immense pressure in the world's toughest backyard, du Plessis showed immense grit and antiquated resolve with AB de Villiers to snatch a thrilling draw on the final day, indirectly leading them to a phenomenal series win and handing South Africa the ICC Test Championship mace.
Thereafter, du Plessis continued to be an immovable figure in the South African line-up: one of the big three (Amla, de Villiers, and Faf) most coveted wickets for the opposition. He led by example in the shortest format too (although silverware continued to elude them) with a semifinal finish in the 2014 edition of T20 WC and a superb 2015 World Cup campaign which famously ended in heart-break for the South Africans. Nevertheless, barring the ICC tournaments and the India tour of 2015, South Africa continued to do well across formats; especially abroad, in an age of fortress domination.
After a form slump in Tests, du Plessis was dropped for the start of the England series in 2016, as his school-friend AB de Villiers took over captaincy from Hashim Amla. However, citing injury and workload issues, de Villiers stepped down from his role in December. du Plessis, long believed to be the natural successor for the job, had found his run-scoring mojo and was filling in as deputy skipper. He even led South Africa to a famous Test series win in November against Australia in their own backyard and was named permanent Test captain of South Africa with immediate effect.
With AB de Villiers stepping down half-way through 2017 as ODI captain, following a disastrous Champions Trophy campaign, Faf du Plessis was appointed the captain of South Africa across formats.
World Cup - Through the years
They say timing is everything in sport. It was timing that didn't allow Faf to go to England as a Kolpak player and it was again timing that got him a ticket for the 2011 World Cup in India. After marking his ODI debut against India with a composed 50 in January 2011, he continued his good form in the World Cup, notably steering his side to victory in a high-pressure run-chase against eventual World Champions, India.
However, Faf is more known for running out his best mate AB de Villiers in the quarterfinal against New Zealand. The game was in the balance and de Villiers was set on 35 when Faf called him for a risky single. That wicket changed the course of the game and South Africa fell apart in their pursuit of 222. The C-word was once again thrown around.
In 2015, Faf scored 380 runs and was only second to AB de Villiers for South Africa's leading run scorers. Even in the heartbreaking 2015 semifinal against New Zealand, Faf was the top scorer with 82. However, he could not prevent his country from being knocked out as Dale Steyn failed to defend 12 runs off the final over. Another World Cup and another opportunity missed.
The 2019 edition saw Faf lead South Africa for the first time in the mega event. However, the Proteas had a forgettable tournament as they managed to win only three of their nine matches. Faf, personally, had a decent World Cup with the bat. He was the only South African to feature in the top-20 run-getters list. Faf amassed 387 runs in eight innings, which included a match-winning century against Australia in the final round-robin game of the tourney.
IPL through the years
Even before he became a regular for South Africa, Faf had managed to be a trusted figure in the CSK dug-out. He may not have always been a regular starter due to the abundance of matchwinners that the franchise had in the overseas category. However, they knew that in times of crisis, Faf was the man they could always turn to. The 2018 season is one such example, when he rescued the side from the dumps in the Qualifier-1 with a nerveless innings, thereby piloting them to the final. There have been several such knocks from the South African and he will be a vital cog for the 2020 season too, even though he may not feature in all the games.