Adelaide: Faf du Plessis was so nervous before his first test innings for South Africa that he slipped out of one of his boots walking toward the field and was afraid he might get timed out before he’d had a chance to bat.
The drama before his credible 78 on the weekend was nothing compared with his unbeaten 110 in his second dig on Monday, when he batted all through the last day to save the second Test against Australia.
In the process, he became the first South African to score a century and a half-century on Test debut. But more significant was the time he spent at the crease denying the Australian bowlers for more than seven hours and helping South Africa draw a match that even many of their own supporters had written off as lost.
The 28-year-old du Plessis was cramping near the end, with fielders crowded around the bat and with No 10 batsman Morne Morkel trying to hold up an end in the dying overs. The ninth-wicket pair held on for long enough to ensure the draw in the last over after five days — when the Australians only needed two wickets to win.
“I think it just makes it a little bit more sweeter,” du Plessis said. “The story wouldn’t have been that nice if my body was all feeling fine.”
“It just shows how far you can go if you’re mentally strong enough.”
Du Plessis has taken a long time to establish himself as a first-class cricketer, so he was determined to make the most of his chance after being called into the Test team after J.P. Duminy was injured last week in Brisbane. He has played 26 limited-overs international for South Africa, with a modest average of 28, but has played 78 first-class matches in England and South Africa and averages 38.30 at that level, with eight hundreds and 29 half-centuries.
“I would have been very happy just to be part of the team coming here,” he said. “It’s just nice using my opportunity very well.”
His performance in Adelaide, where he faced 376 balls in a gritty defensive knock, has already been widely acclaimed by the South African cricket fraternity, so he should get another chance in the third Test in Perth starting Friday.
Skipper Graeme Smith said the innings was inspirational. Cricket South Africa acting chief executive Jacques Faul added: “Faf’s performance in this match was world class by any standards, but to do it on debut in an away Test against Australia was absolutely phenomenal.”
Du Plessis credited his old high school friend AB de Villiers and veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis for getting him through the innings.
He anchored an 89-run, fifth-wicket stand with de Villiers (33) and 99 for the sixth with Kallis (46), who was batting with a hamstring injury that has prevented him from bowling or fielding since early on day one and could rule him out of the third test.
Du Plessis went in with the score at 45-4 on Sunday, chasing a target of 430, and survived until stumps. The South Africans resumed at 77-4 on Monday didn’t lose another wicket until Peter Siddle bowled de Villiers just after lunch to end his 220-ball innings — the longest without a boundary in Test records. Kallis batted stubbornly for two hours, facing 110 balls before he walked after giving a bat-pad catch off Nathan Lyon, soon after ushering du Plessis to his hundred.
“If you looked at it yesterday, it was quite a long way away. AB and Jacques really helped me a lot,” du Plessis said. “I had a lot of questions for them and they kept me calm, especially in the 90s.
“In the 90s, I was going through a lot of emotions. I had goose bumps — it’s the record for the longest goosebumps ever. I said to myself, ‘Don’t think too much of your hundred, let it come to you. The team wants you to be defensive here and be solid and wait for it.’ So I’m very grateful.”
He’s also very thankful for the DRS — or decision review system — where each team has limited chances to refer an umpire’s decision to a TV official to determine if it was correct or not.
He was in his 30s when Australian captain Michael Clarke thought he’d taken his wicket, twice, for lbw.
One was close, the ball pitching a fraction outside leg stump when he didn’t offer a shot — the other was a poor call from umpire Billy Bowden that didn’t even hit him on the pad.
He survived a third review for an awkward lbw, this time by the Australians after Bowden gave him not out to Lyon in the penultimate over of the morning session, when replays indicated the ball would have bounced over the stumps.
It was quite a character-building exercise, as Smith saw it.
“Today I just wanted to see the guys show a bit of character,” he said. “For me, it was incredible to see the guys who represented us out there today, the skill, determination and the pride they took in their performances. They represented us immensely, and a lot of people back home. For me, that is the most fulfilling thing of today.”
Australia (1st Innings) 550
South Africa (1st Innings) 388
Australia 2nd Innings 267 for eight declared
South Africa 2nd Innings (overnight 77 for 4)
A. Pietersen b Siddle 24
G. Smith c Ponting b Hilfenhaus 0
H. Amla c Clarke b Lyon 17
J. Rudolph c Cowan b Lyon 3
AB de Villiers b Siddle 33
F. du Plessis not out 110
J. Kallis c Cowan b Lyon 46
D. Steyn c Quiney b Siddle 0
R. Kleinveldt b Siddle 3
M. Morkel not out 8
Extras (b1, lb1, w1, nb1) 4
Total (8 wickets; 148 overs) 248
Fall of wickets: 1-3 (Smith), 2-36 (Amla), 3-45 (Rudolph), 4-45 (Pietersen), 5-134 (De Villiers), 6-233 (Kallis), 7-234 (Steyn), 8-240 (Kleinveldt)
Bowling: Hilfenhaus 34-16-65-1, Siddle 33-15-65-4 (1nb), Clarke 18-5-34-0, Lyon 50-31-49-3, Warner 6-0-29-0, Quiney 6-3-4-0 (1w), Ponting 1-1-0-0
Man-of-the-match: Faf du Plessis (RSA)
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (ENG), Billy Bowden (NZL)
TV umpire: Asad Rauf (PAK)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)