South Africa’s exit from the World Cup will go down as the lowest point in Faf du Plessis‘ career as captain. South Africa have lost their fifth game out of seven at this World Cup, to Pakistan at Lord’s, leaving them above only Afghanistan – the only side they have beaten – in the points table.
It is the first time they’ve failed to make it past the first round of a World Cup since the disastrous 2003 campaign, and even then they went into their final game knowing a win would see them through. In 2019, they will play their last two matches knowing they don’t matter. Embarrassing, a resigned-looking du Plessis said, after a 49-run loss to opponents who had come in with plenty of their own issues.
“Yes, definitely [it is the lowest point]. I’m a very proud player and captain, and playing for South Africa means a lot for me, and the fact that the results we’re dishing out at the moment – you know, it’s really, really tough, and borderline… today, it’s a little bit embarrassing. We’re trying but it’s just not good enough. Obviously I’m human as well, so it will keep chipping at me.
“It’s important that the coach, myself, the senior players, are the guys that needs to front up to this challenge. That’s when your players need you the most. So right now, I need to be there for the other players as well.”
The patterns that have emerged over the course of this bedraggled campaign were maintained at Lord’s. Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi began poorly and so the rest were catching up; the top order got starts but didn’t move on, and thereafter the batting felt thin; most notably, the fielding was again ragged, far, far short of the very highest standards South Africa have traditionally set.
Du Plessis didn’t think Lord’s was the worst performance South Africa have put in, but by now, given the run of results that preceded it, felt it must rank among the most frustrating.
“You know, I feel we keep making the same mistakes over and over again,” he said. “Probably started off with the bowling. Our bowling has been the one thing that’s been working this tournament, and today, a well-below-par performance, probably bar Immy [Imran Tahir], who was exceptional once again.
“But the rest of the guys, probably, you know, five-out-of-ten performance with the ball, 30 runs too many [given away] and the same thing with the bat once again. We’re starting our innings losing wickets again and then we build something nicely, get a partnership going, and then wicket and then wicket.”
This World Cup will mark the end of at least two South African careers – both Tahir and JP Duminy will go once the tournament is done. But talk about white-ball futures will now hound the likes of du Plessis himself, Hashim Amla, and Dale Steyn, whose return home with a shoulder injury was one of the early markers in how badly this tournament was going to go for South Africa.
It will, du Plessis was open enough to admit, tarnish the legacy of some of the senior players in the squad.
“Yeah, I’d be lying if I say no. I think, as I said, as a player, I’m very proud. But I’ve always said that my most enjoyment that I get from the game playing for South Africa is captaining the side. The fact that we are really underperforming, as I said, chips away at me, as well. It’s really important for me.
“I love captaining this team, and the fact that we are playing way, way below our potential is not something that sits with me well. There’s too much pride for me, and that’s why – I mean, I’m trying as much as I can, but unfortunately not everything is in my hands. You know, if I could, I would get my wand out and get some runs on the table for our batters, but I can’t, unfortunately.
“So it is a challenge, and my character is one that will try and fix as many problems as I can and try and control the areas that I can, but unfortunately, I can’t control everything.”