There have been comments from the South African camp ahead of this T20I series which suggested that they see newly anointed skipper, Quinton de Kock, as the future leader in limited-overs cricket. This effectively puts Faf du Plessis' short-form career hanging by a thread when it perhaps is one of the most compelling strengths of the South African cricketer.
Slow to start
Du Plessis established himself in the limited-overs side earlier than he did in the Test team but his most memorable moment came in Tests when he attracted attention with a fabulous blockathon at Adelaide against the Aussies.
While his initial form in limited-overs cricket was questionable, du Plessis has become a beast in the formats in the past few years. The skipper has an average above 60 in ODIs since 2017, making 2153 runs with six hundreds and 12 half-centuries. He is easily South Africa's highest run-scorer in this time frame.
Evolution in the shortest format
In T20Is, du Plessis' moment came when he was pushed to open at the Chennai-based franchise in the Indian T20 League. While that hasn't translated into a similar role in South Africa's T20I side, du Plessis has found his groove in recent times in the middle-order.
He is the third-highest run-scorer for the Proteas in the format with 1301 runs at an average of 37.17. He also has an add-on in terms of strike rate, scoring at 135.57 in his short-form career. Du Plessis' T20I transition is evident when you scan his strike rate which has gone from 126.41 in 2016 to 140 in 2017, 165.9 in 2018 and 145.58 in 2019.
The South African middle-order, on paper at least, clearly lacks oomph and the solidity that the trio of de Villiers, du Plessis and Amla offered.
Du Plessis' absence is a huge blow to South Africa's chances. That his position as skipper is even questioned is bizarre given how he has led the team with flair and panache. Forget his captaincy, though, it is his value as a player that South Africa will miss more in this tough series against India.
A massive series in terms of context with the T20 World Cup looming, South Africa will be searching for a replacement for du Plessis, a glue that had held the middle-order together in recent times in T20Is.
While Reeza Hendricks, Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma lend balance to the middle-order, a player who can switch from attack to defence seamlessly like du Plessis will be missed. With AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla retired, Faf du Plessis would have given the younger guys in the team a strong backing in an anchoring role.
With him out of the picture, South Africa will have to bank upon David Miller, who has reeked inconsistency, Reeza Hendricks, whose technique against pace is questionable and Rassie van der Dussen, who has adapted well but often forgets that he has a higher gear.
On turning tracks, against India's wily spinners, the experience of du Plessis, who is familiar with conditions here, will be massively missed.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Paul Ellis