Challenge SPORT

by Adrian Barnard (amended)

Leading by following

Faf du Plessis playing
July 6, 2019: Faf du Plessis of South Africa hits the ball over the boundary for six during the Group Stage match of the Cricket World Cup between Australia and South Africa at Old Trafford, Manchester, England. (Photo Andy Kearns/Getty Images)

South Africa cricket captain Faf (Francois) du Plessis became full-time Twenty20 series skipper in February 2013, took over the Test captaincy in December 2016 and captaincy of all formats in August 2017.

In an interview with Passion for Sport, Faf said his leadership style is "very relaxed" – but that doesn't mean faffing about.

He says: "I am extremely laid back, but obviously at times when it's needed for you to be firm you have to be blunt. It's all about knowing when to do that because different players need different things to get them going or to get the best out of them.

"I've learnt a lot about myself and my leadership, and that's certainly got to do with my faith as well as my character, which has changed through the years.

"My style is very relaxed and very honest, so I think those are my trademarks as a leader. Players and personnel know exactly where they stand with me."

And Faf also knows exactly where he stands as far as God is concerned. His Twitter bio is called 'Jesus Follower'.

He says: "That is the thing that is most important in my life. I understand that I have a purpose, through God, and He has put me in a place where I must shine His light.

"I must put Him before anything else. I do it to openly say to the world_that God is the most important thing in my life and when I, as we all do, sometimes drift away from God, I just flick on to my Twitter or Instagram and I am reminded of that.

"For me, to be fortunate enough to be in a place where people look up to me, means that when they look at me, they see that I am a Christian first, a dad and a husband second, and then cricket comes after that.

"As important as cricket is because it is my livelihood, it definitely isn't my first priority. The way I look at it every day is to just be thankful for being put in the place that I am, so that's why my social media pages say that I'm a Jesus follower first because He is the reason that I am here."

But he hasn't always been a believer. Asked what made him change, he says: "I was playing for South Africa at the time and as a youngster, you've made it. You have financial security... you have a bit of celebrity status... so pretty much everything that you've ever wanted, you now have.

Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis. Photo: Getty Images

"But still, there were many times where I would feel that there was so much missing from my life and I had a feeling of emptiness. That's what being a Jesus follower [a Christian] now gives me, the fact that that hole, the empty feeling that I had, is now full.

"I grew up thinking I was a Christian but definitely not in a relationship with God. I went to Sunday school and it was a very old-school church. I would say prayers as a habit and read my Bible as a habit but without feeling or emotion. When you don't have a proper relationship with God you don't really understand it all so that was me until about [2013]."

He relates that the pastor who gave Faf and his future wife pre-marital counselling challenged him about his faith: that Christianity is more than rules or knowledge but must be a relationship that informs how you live.

"I was intrigued, I told him that I was interested in changing my life and that there are a lot of things I'd like to get rid of. Slowly but surely I saw other things that I wanted to change and we actually worked through a little book called One To One, which unpacks what it means to surrender your life to God. In working through all that stuff, my heart began to change and I wanted to be obedient, for the first time I was starting to fall in love with God.

"Another turning point was a short time after when I was got a back injury and couldn't go and play in the IPL (Indian Premier League). I was really disappointed because the IPL for us is a huge income source. In this two to three-week period at home I went through a heart change, got baptised with my wife and [from then on I was] a completely different person.

"Initially, it was hard to grasp the concept of giving your career and performance over to God, trusting Him in success or failure. But now, as I have grown in my faith, I truly believe that He has put me here for a reason. I have a purpose in Him."

Faf hasn't allowed fame to go to his head: "I want to treat people with respect. Jesus' first thing was always to be humble, to treat people well and to love people."

His several tattoos mark important things in his life and act as a conversation-starter about his beliefs: "I specifically want my tattoos to tell a story of my faith, because a lot of people ask about the tattoos, so I get an opportunity to discuss what I believe.

"I have one on the side of my ribs which reads 'grace' [in Urdu] because it is by the grace of God that my life has been changed. Then I have a quarter sleeve which has all the important things that have happened in my life, including cricket and my walk with God." The sleeve includes dates and pictures marking his Test cricket debut, marriage and the day he got baptised. On top of it is written 'Agape', which is Greek for unconditional love.

Besides loving cricket, Faf enjoys cooking and fashion, and became father to a daughter in 2017.

The original article appeared on the Passion for Sport website and in Good News UK. It is used with permission.

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