By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – That coach Russell Domingo was forced to field a question about the captaincy of the South Africa team in the wake of the Adelaide day-night test was testimony to the impact Faf du Plessis had on the series.
Standing in as skipper for the injured AB de Villiers and without pace spearhead Dale Steyn for all but a day and a half of the campaign, the 32-year-old batsman delivered a 2-1 series triumph that sent Australia plummeting into crisis.
His contribution was not without controversy and he flirted with being Australia’s Public Enemy Number One when he was found guilty of ball tampering after being pictured applying saliva to the ball with a mint in his mouth.
His retort to being booed onto the pitch at Adelaide, however, was an innings of 118 not out, a knock that might have said nothing about his integrity but spoke volumes about his ability to deal with pressure.
The Proteas lost the test despite the century but that in no way diminished his pleasure at South Africa’s third straight series triumph in Australia, a feat matched in the modern era only by the great West Indies sides of the 1980s and 90s.
“Mission successful,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
“The last four days wasn’t planned but Australia fought back nicely. We came here to win the series, which we did in Hobart. It was an incredible series to win it 2-1 and to do it three times in a row is a huge effort.”
Domingo confirmed that the totemic de Villiers would return as skipper for the home series against Sri Lanka if he has recovered from his elbow injury but paid tribute to the contribution of his temporary replacement.
“He’s been outstanding,” said the coach. “The team supported him throughout and just the hundred that he got in this test match shows the person that he is and the character he has.”
Du Plessis was delighted with the way the pace bowling unit of Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott had “stepped up” in the absence of Steyn.
Asked how he would remember the series after all the furore surrounding the ball tampering verdict, which he has appealed, du Plessis was clear.
“I will remember it for winning the series. That’s what we came here to do,” he said.
“There was a little bit of huff and puff over the last few days but to overcome what happened and score that hundred is something I will remember forever.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)