Oscar Ress speaks to Leus du Plooy, Derbyshire’s new captain and fresh from a winter in which he established himself as a new star on the franchise circuit.

In 2019, Leus du Plooy was faced with the biggest decision of his professional career. On the one hand, he had a franchise contract on the table in his native South Africa. On the other, an offer from Derbyshire to sign a Kolpak deal, an option that would see him leave his family and put a halt to his international ambitions. With advice received from Jacques Rudolph, a county stalwart as well as a former South Africa Test cricketer, du Plooy took the plunge.

Four years later, the 28-year-old is captain of his county and after a fruitful winter in the country of his birth, he is increasingly knocking on the door of two international teams. That decision in 2019 appears to have paid off.

“It was almost a now or never type of situation,” he says, speaking ahead of the 2023 County Championship season. “And I am very glad I did it because I love playing cricket over here.”

Du Plooy is South African-born but a Hungarian passport has allowed him to secure settled status and remain in county cricket as a domestic player post-Brexit. He will qualify to represent England in 2024, but remains open to representing South Africa – though answering a call from the Proteas would mean relinquishing his domestic status.

“I would love to play for England one day, even though it is not my birth country,” he says. “It is a country that I have grown to love and I believe that you can love two countries at once. I’m going to try my best to score as many runs as possible at the moment and the rest will take care of itself.”

There is an air of confidence in the way he speaks about his future, as if for him it’s a case of when rather than if. “I firmly believe that I am good enough to represent any country at the international level,” he says, and when he does, you believe him.

This confidence is not unfounded either. Du Plooy, an elegant left-hander, boasts a stellar domestic record in all formats, including averaging 43.10 in first-class cricket and north of 50 in List A cricket. And during the inaugural SA20, his talent was revealed to a global audience, averaging 62.25 for Joburg Super Kings. Du Plooy featured as an overseas player despite being “50 to 60 kilometres” from home, close enough that his family were able to enjoy a rare chance to come and watch him play. They were duly entertained.

Two innings in particular stand out, for the attacks they were made against as much as the rate at which they came. Du Plooy notched 81 off 48 against MI Cape Town and 75 off 40 against Durban Capitals, both unbeaten, and taking down the likes of Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Kagiso Rabada, Rashid Khan, Adil Rashid and Anrich Nortje in the process. He terms the latter “an ‘I can do this’ innings”.

“Confidence is everything,” he says. “I think you really start to believe once you start to perform at a certain level, facing those top-class bowlers and managing to get a few runs against them.”

It’s hoped that the SA20 will serve to revolutionise South African cricket, as a finishing school for the country’s best young players, a much-needed revenue stream to fill Cricket South Africa’s coffers, and as a vehicle to prevent talent drain away from the Rainbow Nation. Had it come around sooner, would du Plooy’s decision on where to base himself have been different?

“You never know but most probably yes. At that stage in 2019, I wouldn’t say Cricket South Africa was in the best place and the domestic structure had a lot of ifs and buts going on. I think every young cricketer in South Africa that comes through the ranks now has a lot more of a motivating factor to stay in South Africa. But I’ve got no regrets about coming over here.”

Joburg Super Kings lost to eventual champions Sunrisers Eastern Cape in the semi-final, du Plooy making a duck as his team fell 14 runs short of chasing 216. But the reward of the exposure on offer remained. Du Plooy has since been picked up in the top bracket by Southern Brave in the Hundred – not that he found out right away, choosing to take a trip to IKEA to distract himself from the two-hour televised extravaganza. His pick-up was the fruit of one of the relationships developed over the winter, with Stephen Fleming overseeing operations at both Joburg Super Kings and Southern Brave.

“I think it was before the PE [Port Elizabeth] game that he asked me what my plans were with regards to the draft,” du Plooy explains. “And he convinced me to go back into the draft. But then again you’re not certain that you’re going to be picked up at a specific team. I was really surprised that he picked me up when he did but I could not be happier because he is an incredible coach.”

Fleming’s endorsement is a valuable one, with the faith placed in du Plooy demonstrated by the fact that he and Tom Kohler-Cadmore are the only two players without a senior international call-up in the top paybracket of Hundred players. Fleming has built a reputation as one of the best coaches on the circuit, with as keen an eye for talent as anyone – his seal of approval will be noted by many. If du Plooy is to break into an England side, it’s the shortest format that appears his best bet, with a succession plan for Dawid Malan at No.3 likely needed after the 2024 T20 World Cup.

Du Plooy epitomises modern, all-format batting and unfurled an innovative back-of-the-bat scoop shot over the keeper’s head in a T20 Blast game against Leicestershire last summer, a remarkable piece of semi-improvisation: “I do train it every now and then but those funky shots happen instinctively.” This creativity is part of what is making him a sought-after asset in the shortest formats.

After a whirlwind winter, du Plooy’s attentions are now fixed solely on Derbyshire, with the club bolstered by a vote of confidence from their coach Mickey Arthur. The South African was unwilling to give up his role at the county, even when offered the chance to take charge of Pakistan following a PCB shake-up, and will perform his role as national team director remotely while remaining in Derby.

“That’s massive for us,” du Plooy says. “Mickey’s played a pivotal role in shaping us as cricketers and growing our squad at Derbyshire. The guys will run through a bloody brick wall for him.”

Under Arthur, du Plooy is hoping to inspire Derbyshire to follow in the footsteps of Ben Stokes’ England, pioneering a no-holds-barred style of play and gleaning success while doing so.

“The way they have gone about it as an international side has just been excellent to watch and I won’t be surprised if the other 17 counties try and go about it in that fashion,” he says. “It’s a really exciting start of a chapter for us at Derbyshire. We will try to build on our brand but also have the England side in mind as it is a nice symbol to work towards. We will say we want to win the trophies and we want to play a brand of cricket that our supporters, members, and ourselves will be very proud to be playing.”