There's a secret behind Faf du Plessis' success in snatching balls one-handed out of the sky to send batsmen on their way and after his second one against Sri Lanka, he was willing to share it.
"Someone once told me that if you fear getting hit on the finger or if you fear what happens when you fall, that's when you are going to get hurt because you go into it 50-50. But if you go into balls-to-the-wall, if I can say that, then you are going to be okay," du Plessis said in Durban, where he enabled South Africa to pick up their first wicket by running to his left from cover, leaping in the air and pulling off a one-handed catch in effortless fashion.
Du Plessis had put in a similarly stunning effort in the slips to dismiss Angelo Matthews in the Test at the Wanderers. The Sri Lanka captain flashed hard at a ball that looked destined to clear the cordon but du Plessis timed his leap perfectly and his right hand did the rest. He rated the Test catch a little higher, because of the force with which the ball was hit.
"The Test one will be hard to beat. The ball was traveling very quickly and it was a lot higher than this one was today," du Plessis said. "Today, my legs were just too tired, I couldn't jump up off the ground so I had to save it with my hand. It will take a lot to beat that catch I took at Wanderers."
In the ODI, which South Africa won by 121 runs, du Plessis' time in the field came after he spent two hours and 44 minutes in the middle, crafting a Man-of-the-Match worthy century and sharing in a 117-run stand with David Miller. Du Plessis' innings included 53 singles, six twos and two threes, which meant a lot of running between the wickets in high humidity.
He expected to feel the effects of his exertion in the lead-up to the third ODI on Saturday but does not anticipate having to miss it. "I feel when you get older your body gets more sore after a game after you've done it so the next two days will be a write off for me and then we'll come back for the next game and I will do it again."
Du Plessis is not the only one who can pull off those kinds of moves in this South African team. "We are very lucky. If you look at the guys in the ring - they are all brilliant fielders. There's not any fielder there that's a bowler. It's all quality fielders, who field at point or cover for the different franchises," he said. "We've got the right personnel and with that you can obviously make sure you train hard and then you can change games with them. New Zealand have been a great example of that for many years and we are right up with them now."
The Durban match provided ample proof of that statement. AB de Villiers took a catch running backwards to dismiss Upul Tharanga and a direct hit from JP Duminy at backward point did Asela Gunaratne. Sri Lanka's coach Graham Ford had to concede that apart from being out-batted and out-bowled, his side were also out-fielded.
"I am not too sure there's any other side in world cricket that can field as brilliantly as they do. If there is, hopefully we don't have to play against them. Their fielding is electric," Ford said. "They have got some amazing athletes in that fielding group. South Africa are very lucky that Jonty Rhodes set such a great example years ago. These kids, when they were young, all they wanted to be was be like Jonty. So from a very young age, really worked on their fielding and enjoyed their fielding and it shows. They must have saved plenty of runs and then two brilliant catches that you very seldom see get taken and then an outstanding run out, real Jonty-style. That killed us."
More so, because Sri Lanka put down what could have been a match-defining catch. South Africa were 118 for 4 and du Plessis on 63 when he edged left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan to slip but Dhananjaya de Silva could not hold on. They also grassed two more chances. Hashim Amla was dropped on 6 by the bowler Suranga Lakmal, although he barely had any time to react and and David Miller, the other centurion, was reprieved on 67, when a very thick edge eluded Dinesh Chandimal standing up to the stumps.
Overall, Ford was not too unhappy with what he saw from his players. "It was one of the best ground fielding performances I have seen some Sri Lanka for quite a while. The commitment, the energy, the effort in the field, in fairly tough conditions was amazing," he said. "We so easily could have had a different day. We had a chance to have them 120 for 5 with two bowling all-rounders to come after that. The game could have been very different if we'd managed to take that chance."