Captaincy in any sport involves taking on extra responsibility, but cricket demands more than most from its leaders.
Bowling changes, batting orders and field placements require constant attention on the pitch, while media commitments and leadership meetings eat up time off it.
For some, the pressure of the job can take its toll, with the role weighing heavy on their shoulders and negatively affecting their performance.
Former South Africa captain, Faf du Plessis, didn’t see it that way, though.
“I never saw captaincy as a burden. I always really enjoyed that responsibility and what comes with it,” he says.
Du Plessis stepped down as Proteas skipper in all formats in February 2020, after leading his country in 36 Tests, 39 ODIs and 40 T20Is.
“I’m going to have a lot less on my plate!” he says. “It’s quite a big change.
“Obviously, I’m still part of the team but I have a lot less stuff that requires my time.
“I’m enjoying the next phase of my career as a player and being able to share whatever I can to make sure that we’ve got a few strong leaders in the team.”
Although his captaincy days are over, that doesn’t mean that Du Plessis is winding down towards retirement. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“There’s a lot left for me to do here,” he says. “There are a lot of young faces, the team has changed a lot in the last two years.
“I feel like I can still add value in that space of having experience, particularly with the younger guys.”
Not only is du Plessis enjoying his new role off the pitch, but the former skipper has also found some form with the bat after a tough final year at the helm in which they crashed out of the 2019 World Cup early on, and lost Test series to Sri Lanka, India and England.
Playing for the Chennai Super Kings in the 2020 IPL, du Plessis top scored for his team with 449 runs in 13 innings at an average of more than 40.
He also impressed in South Africa’s first international series since March – three T20s against England – scoring two half-centuries.
Du Plessis has been rested for the three-match Betway ODI series against England, but knows there is a lot of cricket to come in the months ahead.
“I’m excited. Last season was obviously a tough one for me in terms of stepping down as captain and feeling like it’s time for the next chapter in my career,” he says.
“The IPL really refreshed me and I’m excited for the future that lies ahead. I still believe that I’ve got a lot of cricket left in me.
“I think being ready mentally is the challenge for players when they get a bit older, but I feel really, really refreshed and my body feels really strong.”
The man charged with taking the reins in the limited-overs side is wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock, another star player for the Proteas over the last few years.
De Kock is an understated character who leads by example, and du Plessis believes he will bring a new approach to the role.
“Quinny is very instinctive as an on-field captain, so a lot of his energy goes towards the cricket side of things and trusting that decision-making process on the field,” he says.
“His strength is really not worrying too much about all the other stuff, just focusing on what needs to be done on the field and keeping his mind as fresh as possible for that. He’s got a really good cricket brain.”
As well as a fresh perspective from the skipper, the Proteas currently have several talented young players coming through the ranks.
A world-class pace bowling unit featuring Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi can trouble the very best in world cricket, while there are several batsman also ready to make an impact at international level.
“The direction of the team at the moment is definitely positive,” says du Plessis. “We’ve got some really exciting players, and we’re looking at a really good group that offer different skills of match-winning.
“Guys like Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen, those guys are getting opportunities now to make a claim to being the next big Protea batters for the next five or six years.
“All the previous guys are finished now, so it’s a great opportunity for this young team to establish themselves as the next Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers – the guys who played for a long time.”
Although things are moving in the right direction, du Plessis is aware of the significant work that needs to be done for South Africa to begin challenging at the very top once again.
The Proteas currently rank sixth in the world in the ICC Test rankings, and fifth in both ODIs and T20s, with a World Cup in the shortest format approaching in October 2021.
“There’s definitely lessons to be learned from the 2019 World Cup,” he says. “We were trying to find our combinations and give lots of guys opportunities. Especially with a coach coming from outside the set-up, we wanted him to see what our resources were like.
“But I think something you can definitely learn from a team like England is that you play your best team as much as possible, as often as possible, so those combinations really get to understand their games and work with each other.
“We need to make sure that we find our right combinations a little bit earlier and then stick with it and trust the right guys to be successful.”
Despite giving up the captaincy, Du Plessis is one of those players that South Africa know they can still rely on.
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