What Faf wants from MSD’s leadership

du Plessis talks about his journey with CSK; says he loves opening in T20s

Mumbai 29 May 2014
Faf du Plessis joined Chennai Super Kings in 2011, the same year he played his first game for South Africa. He spent his entire first season with CSK on the bench, watching, learning, preparing and growing – as a cricketer, leader and person. Fast forward three years and Faf is now South Africa’s T20 captain and one of the senior members of the CSK unit.

After the Chennai team clinched the Eliminator against Mumbai Indians at Brabourne Stadium to progress to Qualifier 2, du Plessis spoke to about his journey with CSK and the impact that MS Dhoni has had on him in regards with captaincy. Faf also told us about his favourite batting position in the T20 format and described the change in his role with CSK this season.

Here are excerpts from his interview:

Pretty normal stuff for CSK this – getting through in the big games?

Yes, we played pretty well. There were some nervous moments, but Suresh Raina has played a lot of cricket and has done it in high-pressure situations. And this is what CSK has done over a long period of time; in these stages of the competition, we play our best cricket.

What was the reason behind changing the successful opening pair of Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum in such big game?

There was a notion of Brendon being away for two games and myself and Dr. Smith being really good up front. But the theory behind this move is for him to come in at No.4 and still be very aggressive. He does not need to change his game just because his batting position has changed. We want each batsman to come in and take the attack to the opposition. If as a batting line-up you can do that, you always have the bowlers in real pressure. Unfortunately, it didn’t come off tonight for McCullum, but that’s the style of play we are going to look to adapt to in the next game and the Final, if we get there – with every partnership, we’ll try to put pressure on the bowling attack.

Personally, where do you like to bat in a T20 game?

I love to open. I bat at No.3 for South Africa in T20s. I opened the batting for CSK in most games in IPL 2012 and really enjoyed that. This year, they wanted me to bat at No.4 and almost be the link between the big power-hitters at the top and those to follow. So, my role has been a bit more conservative – just putting those guys on strike and carrying the innings. Now, it’s good to get back in the role where I can set the attacking tone in the first six overs.

Till the last season, CSK were known for being slow starters in the IPL. Was there specific talk of changing that this year?

This year, we had a completely different squad; obviously, the core of the Indian players was intact, but there were a lot of new players coming in. So, we started the competition afresh, looking for the momentum, which we found in the UAE. T20 cricket is all about momentum – we won six-seven games in a row and then lost three. We’ve got it back with the win against RCB and now this one.

But it would have felt different in a bad way to not finish in the top two?

We could say that we were a bit unlucky because we played good cricket consistently for the best part of the tournament and only quite dropped the pace in those three games we lost. But having said that, I was involved with the team last year when our bags were packed and we were all ready to go home. We had three more games in the Group Stage and they all went our way and we made the Final. So, it works both ways. At this stage, it is good that we know we have to win the remaining two games to take the cup home and also the fact that there’s hardly any rest now. That helps maintain the rhythm.

You are now in charge of the Proteas T20 team. Is there anything you have or want to incorporate in your leadership from MS Dhoni, besides his well documented calmness?

I have been very fortunate in that regards. I joined CSK when I was reasonably young, when I had just started playing for South Africa. It was nice for me to be in an environment with MS, who had already played a lot of cricket and was a very successful captain for his country. It was nice for me to just sit on the side and learn from him. Besides the calmness, like you said is his trademark, for me what stands out is the way he leads the team with his own performance. He’s the guy who always wants to finish the game. That’s exactly what you want from the leader. He doesn’t leave things for someone else, but takes up the responsibility himself. Besides MS, I have been fortunate to have someone like Stephen Fleming around, who has been a fantastic leader himself. I have played under Graeme Smith for a long time now as well. It’s nice to take the best from all of them and then to use your own blueprint to fill in the areas to try and be the most perfect captain you want to be.

Do you also use the IPL matches to think more like a captain; think about what is happening around and the game situations?

Yes, I’ve always played my cricket like that. I enjoy being very active on the field in terms of thinking. At CSK, we are lucky to have so many international captains among ourselves. But having said that, we also know that this is MS’ team and we respect all the decisions that he makes. But when I’ve got an idea, I run to MS and share my thoughts with him. And he always listens.
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