Cape Town – I have the strangest feeling of
The rather sudden decision by the Proteas
selectors to restore kingpin batsman AB de Villiers to the wicketkeeping role
for at least the first two Tests against England shortly – at Kingsmead and
Newlands respectively – carries strong reminders of the instability that
plagued the position in the 2004/05 home series against those foes.
And if you happen to believe in omens,
South African enthusiasts regrettably need reminding that on that occasion,
England won the five-Test series 2-1 in Duncan Fletcher’s coaching heyday for
Back then, argument raged over a trio of
candidates for the SA berth: an already experienced Mark Boucher, and two raw
customers at the time in the form of De Villiers and Thami Tsolekile.
All three would feature in the England
series, a demonstration of the muddled thinking that existed over the glovework
at the time.
In a nutshell, Boucher – already boasting
some seven years of service to the country -- had been controversially replaced
by debutant Tsolekile for two earlier Tests in India, who then kept his spot
for the first Test against the English in Port Elizabeth.
But Tsolekile’s batting stayed fragile in
the defeat and he was dropped for the Durban second Test with a fresh-faced,
20-year-old De Villiers – already capped for the first time as a specialist
batsman at St George’s Park – asked to assume duty behind the stumps.
De Villiers performed the role with some
aplomb at both Kingsmead and Newlands ... and I will personally never be able
to forget what happened next.
A couple of hours after South Africa had
completed a series-levelling victory (their only one of the series) in Cape
Town, I conducted a pre-arranged magazine interview with the promising De
Villiers, who I had earmarked as cover personality for an edition of the former
The Wisden Cricketer.
Just before it, the media had been informed
of the squad for the next Test at the Wanderers, featuring a recall for hardened
competitor Boucher -- including confirmation that he would ‘keep at the
Bullring even as De Villiers seemed reasonably set to stay in the mix as a
But nobody had informed De Villiers, so
when I both met and interviewed him for the first time, it was both surprising
and startling, as I inevitably asked how he felt about having the gloves taken
away, to hear him reply: “Oh ... er, thanks ... I didn’t know about that.”
The young cricketer was understandably more
than a little distracted as we continued the chat.
In recent times, there has supposedly been
much better clarity over De Villiers, now closing in on 32, and the versatile
role at five-day level: the planet’s currently No 3-ranked batsman only goes
behind the stumps in an “emergency”.
Or so we thought ... the demotion of Dane
Vilas from the squad, and surprising non-selection of Quinton de Kock, has
simultaneously seen De Villiers asked to keep wicket anew against Alastair
What we all know emphatically is that De
Villiers “can”: he has proved many times before that he is well capable of
doing a polished job with the gloves, while also still contributing heavily in
the run-scoring column.
Multi-talent, multi-tasking; these all come
in a day’s work, as it were, for the willing, eternally up-and-at-‘em Abraham
Benjamin de Villiers.
Presumably, too, he was thoroughly consulted
before the latest decision, which will have caught many observers and pundits
But it still seems a risky policy, given
that he is no longer a spring chicken and has just come off a particularly
draining tour of India where he stood head and shoulders above any other
team-mate at the crease for durability and fighting qualities in the 3-0
It is one thing to say, as CSA selection
convener Linda Zondi did in the media release on Thursday, that De Villiers
keeping wicket enables fielding of an extra specialist batsman at No 7, but it
also means an extra physical burden on the man who is far and away the Proteas’
most reliable factor at the crease – and of late has shifted a notch upward to
No 4 from five.
There is also a compelling case for saying that
a recall for the wunderkind De Kock would have given South Africa an in-form,
potential trump-card within the top seven in the Test side anyway.
Since his axeing during the mid-year Test
series in Bangladesh, the baby-faced assassin has responded with two centuries
in three innings during the victorious ODI series in India, and been
consistently in the runs for the Titans back home more recently during the
domestic Ram Slam T20 Challenge.
De Villiers/Boucher/Tsolekile 11 years ago;
De Villiers/De Kock/Vilas today ... the wicketkeeping waters somehow look unappetisingly
muddy once more.
Proteas fans can only hope history doesn’t
repeat itself in the results column against England.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing