Having suffered a broken finger while playing for the Rising Pune Supergiants in the IPL, Faf du Plessis finds himself back in South Africa, something he says feels a bit weird but very nice. Such is the year round nature of cricket for its best players that any moments at home are a real rarity. Having come back from the IPL, du Plessis' next cricketing assignments will be in Caribbean, first with South Africa and then as captain of the St Kitts & Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). Before that though, he gets to enjoy some home comforts.
The time at home has given du Plessis a chance to reflect on his time with the Pune franchise, which has faced a few problems in its first year of existence. "The challenge we faced this year was to turn that team into a cohesive unit. We had maybe 30 per cent of the squad from Chennai, but the fact is that you were with a new franchise and a lot of new people in charge. Our challenge as a new team was to try and close that gap as quickly as possible," du Plessis said.
"We did that pretty well, and obviously the challenge that we are still struggling with is to try and find exactly what our best XI is, and give those guys a good go. It was really nice to walk straight into a set-up that I know really well with Stephen Fleming as coach and MS Dhoni as captain. That is always nice when you can play, when you are comfortable in your surroundings, and obviously opening the batting, which is also something I haven't done in two or three years. I enjoy doing that, especially in India. So I was pretty bummed when it was cut short with a broken finger, but the silver lining is that we don't get at any time at home at all these days. So it is now time to get a bit of R&R, and I suppose I can be nice and fresh mentally for when I start playing again."
When asked if the plan was to attempt and replicate what Dhoni and Fleming had put in place with the Chennai Super Kings, du Plessis said an emphatic yes. "I think it was a case of trying to copy pasting a successful recipe. I know one thing Fleming and Dhoni believe in is consistency in team selection, and that is obviously something that they still try and do. But it felt pretty much exactly the same. The only thing that wasn’t the same was the team song, which is something you can't copy-paste. But the rest, you spend so much time building a successful brand it will be stupid to try and fix it. Like I said, the challenge for this group of players is that it is not the whole Chennai team that Dhoni had for five or six years, where they knew what their best team was," du Plessis said.
"The challenge that Pune have is to try and build something from the ground up — building a team and a culture that you think is going to be a winning recipe. Hopefully we can make that time-frame a little shorter than a normal team would. If you look at the successful teams in the IPL, it has been the teams that have had the best Indian players but it has also been the case of picking the same XI most of the time with just one or two changes now and then. I can see that Pune now play a nice balanced side with pretty much the same playing XI as when they started off. The problem was we had a lot of injuries, four out of the first five players were all injured. If that happens, be it any team, it is going to be a challenge."
Having played under Dhoni, du Plessis is ideally placed to comment on what makes him such a successful leader and to learn from him in the process. "I have been very fortunate to play under MS, which has also helped me as a captain. I found that there is a lot to learn as a young captain from the combination of Fleming and Dhoni. When I started at Chennai, I was still a young captain. I suppose you could see what is working for them and try and implement that in your own style. After playing under him, I know Dhoni's strength is getting the best out of Indian players. Dhoni is the guy who can get the best out of an inexperienced player, one who is yet to do well. We have seen that in the past, there have been a lot of guys who have reached the top under his leadership. In terms of him as a personality or as a captain, he is actually very quiet, a very quiet leader. I suppose his leadership is mostly done out of instinct, he is not someone who believes in a lot of planning. He relies on his cricket brain. And he has got the backing of the players to go with his gut and his instinct and most of the time it is pretty good. He has been a real good captain for India, the amount of trophies that he has won speaks for itself. It is nice for players like us to try and learn from him in small ways about what it is like to get the best out of lots of different players."
Du Plessis will get a chance to put this learning into practice when he takes up the reins at St Kitts & Nevis Patriots. He says he is looking forward to the challenge and taking part in a tournament that is gaining a reputation around the cricketing world as being a bit different to what others are used to. "I am excited about going to the CPL. As a player, you want to be playing all around the world and test your skill in all competitions. I am excited to captain a new team in a different country in a completely different environment. I see it as a huge learning curve for my captaincy; I will work with different players and try and develop them, and look to improve my own game and my leadership. I'll also get a crack and see what the CPL is about. It looks like a completely different cricket tournament from anything else. I have been fortunate enough to play in the Big Bash, and county cricket and other tournaments around the world, but not the CPL. It just looks like a completely different set-up. It is all about fun and dancing and music. Just to experience that and see what it is all about will be great."
The Hero Caribbean Premier League gets under way on 29 June, 2016. You can buy tickets at http://www.cplt20.com.