Passion personified is pure magic. Despite being visually impaired from birth, cricket commentator Dean du Plessis has covered international cricket beyond reproach. He perfected his craft by putting all faith in stump mics – paying close attention to cricket action with his ears just as some would with their eyes.
By falling in love with cricket sounds, Dean du Plessis has conveyed lived cricket action to his audience in an impeccable fashion. Phone calls with his favorite cricketers including, Dave Houghton, Grant Flower, and Alastair Campbell, intensified his love for cricket.
Dean's love affair with cricket, a game he had previously loathed, was ignited when South Africa was re-admitted into Test cricket in 1991. At the time, he was a student at a boarding school in South Africa. In 1992 Zimbabwe got admitted into Test cricket, and he would use the few resources he had to call Radio One Zimbabwe to know the scores. But, having been born with tumors behind both retinas, this did not stop him from fueling his drive to commentate international cricket.
He maintains that "commentating by sound is nothing spectacular," but by all accounts, his craft is an inspiration to millions of people. Using no other technology, he solely relies on the feed from the microphone stump. His commentary is nuanced with "the most obscure statistics from years gone by," showing an untamed desire to preach the game of cricket to the world.
Dean's brother Gary was a first-class cricket player in Zimbabwe playing for the Mashonaland A cricket team. Despite his brother being a good cricketer, Dean did not care much about the game. However, after his time in South Africa (accompanied by lots of radio listening), he developed a keen interest in cricket. He started inquiring about the game from his brother and parents.
The answers proffered were the "building blocks" upon which Dean forged his passion for the game. Then his excitement for the game "peaked." To further develop his art for sports commentary, he obtained Dave Houghton's home number and bowler Eddo Brandes'. Dave Houghton further nourished Dean du Plessis' love for analysis. Their friendship metamorphosed into a "fountain of information" that Dean used to create an excellent career as an international cricket commentator: the world's first visually-impaired cricket commentator.
In 2001, Dean du Plessis was invited to join Neil Manthorp (an old friend who was now a journalist) and Ravi Shastri (former Indian batsman) for a 15-minute chat on Cricinfo's online radio broadcast. Zimbabwe, India, and West Indies were playing each other in a triangular series. His exuberance for cricket immediately impressed the broadcast producers, and that is how his career as an international cricket commentator – two years later, he got his first television role in a One Day International (ODI) match between Zimbabwe and West Indies played in Bulawayo.
Even though his story is noteworthy, he cannot observe some things the same way as sighted commentators. He remarks, "I can't analyse the field placements and make suggestions of how they could be changed. But I still feel I have a lot to offer." And that is where the stump mics become his greatest ally.
He adds, "When I'm wired into the stump microphone, I can generally make out who is bowling from listening to the way that they land and how they grunt, and from that point, there are many giveaways as to what has happened. The length of time between the sound of the ball pitching and hitting the bat, the shuffle of the batsman's feet, and the type of noise that emanates from the bat striking the ball, all give me an idea of what shot has been played."
"Then the different calls of various batsmen, and the shouts of the fielders or the sound of the crowd, suggest whether the ball has pierced the field and how far it may have gone. So I can follow the game carefully, and along with the facts, figures, scorecards and conversations that I've stored in my mind over the years, I can perform a role as an analyst."
His hearing ability is now waning, and he says that losing his hearing is "very worrying." The hearing ability has been his greatest asset in a career that now spans 20 years – these grave concerns have shaken his faith in cricket commentary, but he remains beautifully stoic.
"I sometimes go into complete panic mode. I want to get these hearing aids but they are not the normal, everyday aids. These cost $4,000 which is a lot of money. Nothing is impossible. If I can recover from two tumours that I was born with, which caused my blindness, surely I can find that amount from somewhere."
His story traverses the confines of societal conventions. And one thing is sure that his love for cricket will never die. His contributions to Zimbabwean cricket and international cricket at large are truly priceless.