South African batter Faf Du Plessis has said that a break down with outgoing head coach Mark Boucher led to him retiring from Test cricket
South African batter Faf Du Plessis has said that a breakdown with outgoing head coach Mark Boucher led to him retiring from Test cricket and he was ghosted by Boucher, former Cricket South Africa (CSA) Director of Cricket and convenor of selectors Victor Mpitsang ghosted him when he made himself available for selection for ICC T20 World Cup 2021 following his Test retirement. As per ESPNCricinfo, in his autobiography, in a chapter titled “The Ghosts of Insecurity”, the batter described his final phases with the national team, which started after Boucher took over the side as head coach for a series against England back in December 2019.
Du Plessis said that the series “felt different” as he did not feel being backed by Boucher whenever he faced a media barrage.
Before the second Test, a then out-of-form Plessis was asked why Temba Bavuma, the team’s only black African player had been dropped. Plessis responded about Bavuma’s lean run saying that the team did not see colour. The comment met criticism from the media who felt that Plessis did not understand the nuances of South Africa’s segregated past. Plessis wrote that he felt that Smith and Boucher did not provide him with enough support, which set the tone for the rest of relationship.
“I needed someone to back me up in the media, and Graeme and Mark were best positioned to clear the air and show public support for their national captain who was dealing with head- and tailwinds simultaneously. When Mark attended a press conference while this storm was raging, he did not do that,” du Plessis wrote in his book.
Later in the series, the batter was asked about his future in the national side and Plessis expressed his commitment to play all formats, though he wanted a break from ODIs and with 50-over 2023 World Cup more than three years away, wanted to step down as ODI skipper.
Boucher asked du Plessis if he would give up on T20I captaincy as well but the batter was “not convinced that relinquishing the T20 captaincy was the right decision.” Plessis felt that this idea of Boucher was merely a suggestion.
Du Plessis felt throughout the series that he and Boucher were not connecting deeply and were distant and their relationship was “somewhat cold and distant”. He had also increasingly noticed his closeness with Dean Elgar and wicketkeeper-batter Quinton De Kock. Later, Plessis discovered that Smith and Boucher “felt strongly about appointing Quinny (Quinton as captain) in both white-ball formats” and it happened. Finishing the England series, Plessis felt he was “losing that connection with my purpose as a leader in the team.”
After the series, feeling that “Mark and I did not click” and it would be better for the team to have a pair of coach and captain that connects well with each other, Plessis resigned from Test captaincy on February 17, 2020, but opted to stay as a player.
That is the header of the next chapter, where the batter looks at the year between stepping down as captain and retiring from Test, which was sandwiched between the worst phase of COVID-19.
Plessis at that time felt his relationship with Boucher to be “purely transactional” in which he benefited from the former keeper-batter’s technical expertise. He went on to score a career-best 199 against Sri Lanka in Tests but faced struggles in series against Pakistan. In the latter, he discovered that “my desire and joy to play Tests for South Africa weren’t what they used to be”.
Du Plessis highlighted an incident that underlined his decision to retire, during the first Test against Pakistan on the third day, South Africa had got a slender second innings lead. The day’s play was about to close and spinner Keshav Maharaj was to be sent as night watchman.
South African team had an unsaid rule of sending a night watchman if a wicket fell within 30 minutes or the last seven minutes left of the play. But Boucher differed, telling Maharaj that he was not needed to go out there since night watchman goes out with only 15 minutes left to play. Du Plessis had to get ready to bat despite telling Boucher about the unsaid 30-minute rule. He was ultimately dismissed with five minutes left to play.
“I was furious when I left the field. We had just lost the main batter because of an avoidable tactical error. I said to myself that I was too emotional to address this with Mark immediately and that I should go to bed, sleep on it, and discuss it with him the following morning,” Plessis wrote.
The Proteas lost the match the next day after giving Pakistan a target of just 88 runs.
“At our post-match review session, I said I did not agree with the way we had handled the situation. For the past ten years, the batter had had the option of a night watchman, and I wanted us to discuss this. I said that I wanted to share my opinion but I was happy to be challenged on my stance. I felt that the night watchman was a trump card to be used tactically when required but, if the team felt differently, I would go with what they wanted,” du Plessis wrote.”
“The vast majority of our batting unit said they preferred having the option of a night watchman. Mark tried to push back, saying that in his day the norm was fifteen minutes prior to the end of the play, but that is not how I remember it. I had also played with Graeme, [Jacques] Kallis, and AB, and they used to love the option of not having to bat in the dark,” he added. This incident left a bad taste in both Plessis and Boucher’s mouths.
Mark brought this conversation up again a few months later while we were still discussing my involvement in the  T20 World Cup, and he said that he did not like the way I had challenged him on the night watchman. Personally, I always appreciated it when someone challenged me on something I did or believed in, especially if it came from someone who was not necessarily a friend. But that is just me,” du Plessis wrote.
Du Plessis informed Smith of his decision to retire from the longer format on his return home and texted Boucher if they could meet to discuss an important matter.
“He never responded to my message, nor did he contact me after the announcement had been made… His silence confirmed to me that I had made the right decision to retire from Tests,” wrote Plessis.
During that time, Plessis wanted to play T20Is on a contract deal and be allowed to play from T20 leagues outside his nation. He wanted a T20I-only contract, something CSA had not done before. CSA decided not to give T20I-only contracts but still was exploring possibilities to use Plessis in the 2021 T20 World Cup if he played in 65 per cent of national fixtures.
Du Plessis was well aware that international and league cricket will clash and with an IPL contract that “wasn’t enough to cover all my financial commitments”, he wanted a “formal offer that would enable me to play in fewer leagues”.
Du Plessis said that Smith did not communicate back with him on this matter and he started to accept opportunities to play more leagues. He also admitted that he “sent Graeme, Mark, and Victor Mpitsang an email asking for better two-way communication. I said a breakdown in communication had led to AB not playing in the 2019 World Cup, which became a media mess. I wanted us to prevent a repetition of that. So what did they expect of a player who was not contracted but was in contention for the World Cup?”
Du Plessis revealed that he did not get a reply from either and Mpitsang “had not had a single conversation with me since he’d been appointed to replace Linda Zondi in October 2020”.
He said that “dealing with CSA during this time was like being in a relationship with someone who does not value you as much as you value them. That complicated matters, and I had to work much harder than should have been necessary to get them to communicate efficiently. Their actions made it easier for me to accept that going to the World Cup was not meant to be.”
Du Plessis did not get to play in the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cup but is playing league cricket worldwide. CSA has not seen the copy of the book and have told that they will comment only after going through it.