ADELAIDE (Reuters) - Faf du Plessis battled dehydration and cramping during a match-defining century on Monday, but said the pain and fatigue had made carrying South Africa to a draw in the second test against Australia all the more sweet.
Du Plessis scored 78 in the first innings to help his team avoid the follow-on and an unbeaten 110 in the second as he steered South Africa to safety with only two wickets in hand in a dream debut at Adelaide.
"I think it just makes it a little bit more sweet," the 28-year-old all-rounder told reporters of his exhaustion, having batted through the whole day in stifling heat.
"The story wouldn't have been that nice if my body was all feeling fine. One day when I look back, I can look back and say I pushed through the physical side of things.
"It just shows how far you can go if you're mentally strong enough."
Named man-of-the-match, Du Plessis came to the crease with South Africa reeling at 45-4 shortly after tea on day four and with seemingly little hope of salvation.
Anchoring watchful partnerships of 89 runs with schoolmate AB de Villiers and 99 with injured all-rounder Jacques Kallis, Du Plessis found himself thrust into the role of saviour as his batting partners crumbled around him late in the day.
Along the way, Du Plessis survived two lbw decisions given by umpire Billy Bowden in quick succession when in the 30s, with both over-ruled on video review.
He edged a catch to Matt Wade off the bowling of pace bowler Ben Hilfenhaus but the wicketkeeper fumbled the chance to grant Du Plessis another reprieve on 94.
After moving to 98 after tea, Du Plessis was stuck there for about half an hour as Australia's bowlers ramped up the pressure.
"AB and Jacques really helped me a lot. I had a lot of questions for them and they kept me calm, especially in the 90s," Du Plessis said.
"I was going through a lot of emotions. I had goose bumps - it's the record for the longest goosebumps ever.
"I said to myself, 'don't think too much of your hundred, let it come to you. The team wants you to be defensive here and be solid and wait for it'."
Du Plessis pushed a drive through the covers for two to secure an emotional ton but was soon fighting cramps in his legs amid constant "chirping" from the frustrated Australian fielders.
"They thought I was wasting time, but it was me trying to get some fluids in," said Du Plessis, who was called into the side after JP Duminy was ruled out of the series with an Achilles injury.
"I was surprised, compared with yesterday and today, today they didn't stop (sledging) for five minutes.
"They just keep chatting in my ear the whole day. We'd have done the same thing.
"They were fighting, firstly, then they were getting frustrated. Credit to them for speaking the whole day."
In the final over, Du Plessis was reduced to a nervous spectator with paceman Morne Morkel facing the fiery Peter Siddle, who had taken two late wickets to keep Australia in the hunt.
He need hardly have worried, as Morkel punched two consecutive boundaries before blocking the last ball.
"Morne played it beautifully," Du Plessis said. "He played two straight drives. I went up to him and said, 'keep playing it straight', and he said, 'Don't worry, I've got this'."
(Editing by Mark Meadows)