The valuable Faf du Plessis

A look at how a leg spinner who could field became one of the highest scorers in T20 history.

Perhaps the most Faf du Plessis thing that ever happened was when Quinton de Kock and David Warner were about to dight in a Durban stairwell and Faf turned up to stop it, wearing only a towel. Of all the great stories of facing the feral Aussies, no other player had taken them virtually naked.

Because of this, when you picture Faf du Plessis, you might think of him topless. Or it's because you have seen him like this a lot. We've seen him that way almost as much as shirt one.

But when I picture Faf, it is how I first saw him. Batting at number five, not making any runs and bowling leg spin. It was for Lancashire, and the commentators were talking about what an impressive cricketer he was. But I would watch him in county cricket year after year, and he wouldn't do anything other than field well. His batting was really ordinary, his bowling was absolute dogshit, and I couldn't even work out why he was getting a game, let alone any attention.

After five years of his career, he averaged 19 with the bat and a 117 strike rate and bowled two overs a game where he managed a 16 bowling average and Econ of seven. He was a better bowler than batter statistically. And not for a little time. His professional career started in 2004, meaning that almost eight years in, he was better with the ball than the bat in T20.

That isn't quite true. His bowling numbers here flatter him.

In fact, to prove that, let me show you his bowling stats over the years. In 2013 he didn't bowl at all; after 2014, he never does again. Of course, by this point, he is pretty good at batting.

But he wasn't in 2012, and that is crucial because that is the year he made his IPL debut. And as we just said, he was not good at T20 batting at that point. I checked to see if Faf had lit up India in T20Is, he hadn't even played them. And I looked to see what he had done in ODIs, he played a decent but slow knock against them in an ODI. So it wasn't making runs against India.

It also wasn't him making runs in the 2011 World Cup - which India hosted - as he didn't make many.

The CSK brains' trust were looking for quality role players. Faf may not have been a top T20 player, but he was well-known and respected on the circuit. And the fact he could bat, bowl and field, probably played a part.

But this is fun. This is all the players in my database with over 35 innings batting in the top five from the start of 07 until the end of 2011. And here is Faf with the worst average of any of them.

And he really didn't do much better with the strike rate. He's not dead last, there were some comical strike rates in the early days. But there also wasn't any period where this speed was good.

The point is that when the Chennai Super Kings hired Faf du Plessis he was one of the worst T20 players around.

And now, more than a decade later, he is not. This is not a stat that means all that much. He has certainly not been a star at all times. But it shows that he has scored many runs per knock when he has played. He's been an incredibly consistent run scorer in the IPL, and that alone is a great skill.

He hasn't averaged under 30 in a calendar year of T20 since 2017. And his numbers aren't just beating 30; only one year was he under 35 in that period. It took him a while to work out T20 scoring, and once he did, he's gone supernova with it.

This shows he is now one of the better run scorers in T20, but still nowhere near Devon Conway, and the two Pakistani openers. But what he had done is turned himself into a very reliable anchor that can basically play in any conditions.

Last year he played 50 T20 matches. His most by a margin. And he played them right across the world. So these current numbers are from the volume, and it is clear that he's learned how to score no matter the conditions or league. A huge change from when he couldn't even score at home.

There is another change in his batting since those early days. Back then he was a middle-order player like he is in ODI and red ball cricket. But du Plessis as a T20 player doesn't make much sense there. he can rotate strike against spin, but that is about it. He should have always been at the top, and that change has unleashed his main skill against pace.

And so now - despite not being thought of as a T20 specialist - he has the 20th most runs in the game's history. He only has 1000 less than Jos Buttler, AB De Villiers and David Miller. Which shows how much he has caught up.

If you look at the players with 8K runs, despite his slow start, he scores 28 runs per innings. That is more than Dawid Malan, and just behind Alex Hales. They are known as T20 guys, he is not.

If you look at his golden period, he has the 12th most runs per innings. This shows that opening is good, but he has also become good at it. But scoring runs is only part of the job, the next part is how fast you do it.

This also shows that he has got quicker. Not fast fast, but since the start of 2017, he has only had one year with a strike rate under 130, and even that was 129. But last year he was at 142, and on the highest volume of cricket he's played. And this year he's started off over 150. And while that number may not stay, it would be hard to look at him and not feel like he is attacking more.

Kartikeya has a piece on attacking shots that currently features Faf out. And so far this year Faf is scoring almost two runs a ball on his attacking shots. The players who get to that mark are usually great hitters. We don't have his numbers for this throughout his entire career, but we know this isn't who he has been.

If you look at just his IPL work with true strike rate - which is my contextual measure to look at how fast or slow you score compared to normal players on those balls - he started. Until the last two years when his teams got a small bump.

I wondered if he had just upped himself against spin, but you can see it's his record against pace that still sticks out. And this year so far, he's scoring off quicks like he's in the death, even if he isn't. I don't think he will ever be a hitter. He still gets stuck in too many innings, and he can't help but think like a batter.

But maybe he can, because if you go through his career you see he was an ineffectual middle-order player, a low-impact top-order player, and now one of the most consistent scorers in the game. Is it impossible he is now thinking he could flirt with being a high-impact opener as well?

Perhaps his play against spin will always hold that back.

But du Plessis has always been two things, incredibly fit, and a thorough professional. Someone who works on his game unbelievably hard. He will not go down as a great player in any format, or in the IPL. But he has pushed himself to find ways to help the team. It was leg spin and fielding once upon a time. Now it's slogging fast bowlers at the top.

The thing is with Faf that there is no one way to remember him. It could be him being an alpha, or the world's best fielder, or a Test player who could bat out draws, or the man who was sledged by a 12th man, or a captain who got the most out of his Test team, or an actor in AB de Villiers music video, or the anchor in the IPL. When you can do all those things, you provide constant value.

Faf du Plessis is probably never going to be the most valuable player, but he has worked his entire career just to add value everywhere. And he's still doing it at the age of 38.