Lloyd Burnard

What to do with AB de Villiers?

2016-11-10 12:14
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - AB de Villiers has been ruled out of the third Test against Australia in Adelaide, but his return to action looms.

It was always unlikely that he would be ready for the historic day/night Test on November 24, but the magnitude of the spectacle may have encouraged South Africa's official Test captain to try and rush back. 

De Villiers has been sidelined with an elbow injury that required surgery, but he is expected to be fit and ready for three Tests at home against Sri Lanka over the festive season. 

So, the big question now is what to do with the super-humanly gifted 32-year-old upon his return. 

It is a little more complicated than may have originally been anticipated when Faf du Plessis was asked to stand in as captain. 

In De Villiers' absence, Du Plessis has guided the Proteas to a 1-0 Test series win over New Zealand at home, a 5-0 ODI whitewash over Australia also at home and a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series in Aussie. 

Having had a terrible year up until the beginning of the New Zealand series in August, the Proteas are all of a sudden showing signs of the form that got them to No 1 in the world and that has all happened under Du Plessis' leadership. 

By the end of the Australian series, Du Plessis would have captained the Proteas in five Test matches to De Villiers' two. 

Should De Villiers resume the captaincy in the ODI and Test sides when he returns? 

The easy answer is 'no', but that raises questions over the decision taken by Cricket South Africa (CSA) to appoint De Villiers as full time Test captain back in February. 

Would it be fair to backtrack on that call and strip De Villiers of the captaincy after just two Tests? It would seem harsh. 

Du Plessis, though, is clearly a natural leader. 

You can see it on the field and in press conferences. He is assured, level-headed and dependable. He is consistent in his answers, has his players on one page and he thrives on leading his country. 

I remember De Villiers' first Test as captain vividly. 

It was at the Wanderers in January and the Proteas were 1-0 down in a four-match series against England.  

Hashim Amla had just quit as skipper and De Villiers was tasked with turning things around for the Proteas. 

On the eve of the Test, at De Villiers' first press conference as captain, he was asked to comment on his international future based on reports that had surfaced somewhere. 

"I’ve found myself on the pitch every now and then in the past few years, not too often, not enjoying myself as much as I should be and that raises concerns within myself," De Villiers said that day.

"I’m still very committed … to the job, I’m not sure. Obviously these two Test matches for now is all I’m focusing on and then there’s a nice big break of six months before we play Test cricket again, so lots of things can happen before then.

"I don’t want to commit myself to too much before then but for now I’m as committed as I can be and very hungry to make a success of these two Test matches."

All of that from a man who had just been given the highest honour in his sport?

In no way should De Villiers' passion for his country be questioned and anyone who watched his emotions after last year's World Cup semi-final could see the hurt.

But should a man who constantly questions how much international cricket he can play be entrusted with the captaincy? Probably not. 

At the end of the day, we need our captain available 24/7.

Those two New Zealand Tests may have seemed largely insignificant on the surface, but it was a vital series for the Proteas given that they had just lost to India and England. 

South Africa needed to get back to winning ways, and they needed their leader. 

But De Villiers was unavailable for that series when his elbow injury, which did not prevent him from playing in the Caribbean Premier League for the Barbados Tridents, caught up with him.

If De Villiers wants to be a T20 maverick in the mold of Gayle and Pietersen, to the point where he is playing through injury and ultimately hurting his country, then he needs to remove himself from the running for captaincy in all formats. 

If he wants to be captain, then he needs to put his country first all of the time. And if he needs to rest, then he needs to let his franchises down and not the Proteas. 

That would negatively impact the bank balance, but it is a sacrifice that must be made if De Villiers is serious about taking South Africa to the top of the world. 

The break may have been good for De Villiers. Hopefully he comes back a rejuvenated player and one who wants to play for his country at every available opportunity.

But even then, the Proteas have made significant strides both on and off the field under Du Plessis. The path that they are currently on looks the right one. 

Why change that now? 

Du Plessis even seems to be getting the most out of coach Russell Domingo, who he has publicly applauded for "upping his game" in recent months. It takes a special kind of leader to say that about his coach, but that epitomises the honesty and accountability that this Du Plessis mini-era has encouraged.  

If De Villiers does come back to lead, then he needs to be available for the Proteas every single time, regardless of opposition or format. 

It should up to management to decide when De Villiers gets a break, not De Villiers himself.

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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