One of the BBL’s big name attractions, Faf du Plessis’ just released autobiography targets the tersest Test series in living memory, the 2018 Aussie tour. KEN PIESSE reports.
David Warner’s polarising onfield behavior is central in Faf du Plessis’s just released autobiography ‘Faf Through Fire’.
Describing Warner as his fiercest rival, he said the sledging he and others received from Warner was totally against the spirit of the game and triggered a dramatic reaction from the South Africans in the tersest Test series played since Bodyline.
‘No player roused the dog in me more than David Warner,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t necessarily personal. It was rather his behavior on the field that enabled me to intensify my focus.
‘The way he climbed into me at the Adelaide Oval (on his debut) in 2012 just strengthened my resolve when the team needed me most.
‘But it just wasn’t me. I was stunned that he got stuck into Jacques Kallis, one of the greatest payers of all time. Warner had made his Test debut just a year earlier but that didn’t stop him from sledging Kallis as if he was still a rookie.
‘In all my years of playing against Australia, Warner sledged me the most. That made it easy for me to focus on just one player in order to enter the mental zone I needed to perform optimally.’
In a much-storied 262-match international career across all three formats, Du Plessis said the Australians ‘unlocked the fighter in me – and Warner, in particular, did this just by breathing’.
He likened playing against the Australians to being in a war zone. ‘(They were) Unrelenting. Brutal. I realised early on that the only way to win against them was to match their aggression in order to neutralise their attempts at bullying you into submission.
In the infamous Test series in South Africa in the autumn of 2018, relations between the teams plunged to a new low from the opening Test in Durban which the Australians won thanks to some remarkable reverse swing bowling from Mitchell Starc.
After AB de Villiers, South Africa’s champion, was run out in a misunderstanding with young Aiden Markram, the Australians taunted Markram mercilessly.
‘They told him it was his fault and he was going to cost South Africa the match and the series. (Fellow youngster) Theunis de Bruyn was also targeted.’
Just minutes earlier Nathan Lyon had dropped the ball on South Africa’s champion AB de Villiers after he was run out. ‘Those Australians were a bullish bunch,’ said du Plessis. ‘They’re at the top of their game when their abuse of opposition players seems to be working.’
At the end of a session Warner and Quinton de Kock clashed as they were walking off. The South Africans claimed Warner had told de Kock that he stank and was ‘a fucking sook’.
‘Quinny never says anything on the cricket field,’ said Du Plessis ‘and although none of us knew what a sook was, even he couldn’t take the sledging. He told us afterwards that he retaliated by saying something about Warner’s wife’s past.
‘Warner exploded. His face and neck turned red and he looked like a man possessed by demons who chose a human body that was too big to contain them.’
In Durban the two dressing rooms are adjacent, accessible by a staircase.
Walking up the stairs the argument between Warner and de Kock escalated and Tim Paine had to physically restrain Warner and Australia’s captain Steve Smith moved to create a barrier between the two combatants.
Du Plessis, with just a towel around him, shouted at Warner to keep his mouth shut. Kagiso Rabada joined in. The normal amiable Lungi Ngini was frozen. A gentle giant, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
‘We all felt Warner’s behaviour was contrary to the spirit of the game and if the umpires weren’t going to do anything about it, we were going to make a lot of noise until it was addressed,’ said du Plessis.
Video tape was shown of the incident and Warner was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and handed three demerit points, which put him one point away from a suspension.
‘Australia wanted to bully us and we allowed them,’ said du Plessis, captaining against Australia for the first time at home.Embed from Getty Images
Having spoken with de Villiers, livid at his treatment by Lyon, the South Africans decided that ‘the bullies must be bullied’.
The South Africans hit back to win the second Test at Port Elizabeth, noted for Rabida dipping his shoulder into Steve Smith in mid-pitch.
Du Plessis says Warner and Smith were deliberately targeted.
‘When Warner came into bat, de Villiers was in his face. I was amazed to see the extent to which he had taken our new approach to heart.’
‘We weren’t about to fight an inferno with a garden hose.’
During that controversial second Test, Warner applied heavy strapping around his left thumb, index fingers and knuckles, creating intense scrutiny among the South African broadcasters.
Come Cape Town were Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft were to be suspended for their role in ‘Sandpapergate’, du Plessis was sympathetic. He too had pushed the boundaries previously – and paid the price.
When he retired from Tests, in 2021, he was pleasantly surprised to receive a note of congratulations from Warner, his long-time adversary and rival.
Faf Through Fire is available from cricketbooks.com.au in Melbourne
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. Despite that setback, Ken has written, published and edited 86 books on cricket and AFL football to become Australian sport’s most prolific author.
His latest cricket book is David Warner, The Bull, Daring to be Different with Wilkinson Publishing, out now