Faf du Plessis talks to the media during the group stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between Pakistan and South Africa at Lords on June 23, 2019 in London, England. Picture: IDI VIA GETTY IMAGES/CHRISTOPHER LEE
Faf du Plessis talks to the media during the group stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between Pakistan and South Africa at Lords on June 23, 2019 in London, England. Picture: IDI VIA GETTY IMAGES/CHRISTOPHER LEE

London — Faf du Plessis is a fine captain. Thing is‚ captaincy does not often win matches. Batting‚ bowling and fielding do.

And SA have been poor enough in all departments at the World Cup to be removed from the semifinal equation with two of their league games still to be played.

Suddenly Du Plessis‚ who has pulled his weight with the bat at the tournament better than most of his players by scoring two half-centuries in six innings‚ no longer seems to be the leader who won 66 of the 99 games in which he had been in charge — and lost only 29 — before this now wretched tournament.

Seven games in‚ he has led his side to victory just once. And against Afghanistan‚ no less.

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“As a [SA] player I’m very proud‚ but I’ve always said that my most enjoyment that I get from the game playing for SA  is captaining the side‚” Du Plessis said after his team crashed to defeat by 49 runs against Pakistan at Lord’s on Sunday‚ and therefore out of the running for the semis.

“The fact that we are really underperforming chips away at me. It’s really important for me.

“I love captaining this team‚ and the fact that we are playing way‚ way below our potential‚ is not something that sits well with me. There’s too much pride for me. I’m trying as much as I can‚ but unfortunately not everything is in my hands.

“You know‚ if I could‚ I would get my wand out and get some runs on the table for our batters‚ but I can’t.

“So it is a challenge‚ and my character is one that will try and fix as many problems as I can and try and control the areas that I can. But‚ unfortunately‚ I can’t control everything.

“The biggest thing is making sure that I could put my head on my pillow at night knowing I’ve done everything in the build-up [to matches]‚ and‚ as far as preparation is concerned‚ we’ve done as much as we can.

“The one area where if I could have it definitely was having more players rest before the tournament‚ but that’s something that’s not in my hands. I can’t do anything about that.”

With that a can of worms was opened.

Du Plessis has taken a veiled swipe before in the tournament at the Indian Premier League (IPL)‚ which in 2019 ended 18 days before the World Cup started. On Sunday he came out swinging‚ with flagging fast bowler Kagiso Rabada as his example.

“We did try and get [Rabada] not to go to the IPL‚ to try and stay [in SA] and get fresh‚” he said. “When he went there‚ we were like‚ let’s try and get him back halfway through the IPL because it’s important; not just for him but for a few other players.

“I spoke about it before the IPL even started‚ that it’s important that we try and find space to rest our three-format players. They play all the formats all the time‚ and then they play in the IPL.

“It’s not necessarily just the IPL‚ but it was important for a few guys to rest. And the fact that they didn’t meant that they came into the tournament not fresh. That’s not an excuse; that’s just a fact.

“And you can see KG’s pace is probably a little bit down from where he normally is.”

Rabada bowled 282 balls in the 2019  IPL‚ taking 25 wickets at an average of 14.72. He has sent down 348 deliveries at the World Cup — and claimed six at 50.83.

There are vast differences between those competitions‚ not least in the quality of opposing batting line-ups‚ but you do not need stats to see that Rabada is a long way from the bowler he was in the IPL — and which SA need him to be again.

But Du Plessis is on thin ice. Not only does he play in the IPL himself‚ he will know that marquee players such as Rabada would be under less pressure and make more money if they retired from the international game and devoted themselves to T20 tournaments.

Kevin Pietersen said it first‚ about himself‚ but it’s no less true in this case: it’s hard being Faf.