Proteas

AB riddle could destabilise Proteas

2017-01-17 13:00
AB de Villiers (Gallo)

Cape Town – The plot thickens greatly over AB de Villiers’s future in the national cricket side … with an increasing risk, it is hard not to fear, of affecting harmony and cohesion in the Proteas’ currently so upbeat ranks.

You could say a boomerang was tossed into the air on Tuesday, with the confusing, twin news that De Villiers was “not retiring from any format” (yippee?) but also opting out of the Test portion of the looming tour of New Zealand (aargh? huhhh?).

Enduringly South Africa’s biggest bums-on-seats factor as a batsman, the near 33-year-old has been reported as telling a radio station that his big mission, in a nutshell, is to push through in best possible personal nick to the 2019 World Cup in England, which would probably be his fourth and last opportunity to raise the elusive trophy.

He will be 35 by then, and given the natural, ongoing demand for his services across the busy codes these days, plus the toll already taken on his sometimes injury-affected body, a further CWC in 2023 (in India, where he and home hero Virat Kohli are so idolised as stroke-players) does seem a bridge too far at this juncture.

De Villiers still “calls the shots” in other respects in 50-overs cricket, remember, as he remains captain of the Proteas’ one-day international side … a mantle that was recently removed from his CV at Test level where his friend and old Affies schoolmate Faf du Plessis made such rousing strides in the capacity during De Villiers’s lengthy recuperation from elbow surgery.

It is gratifying to learn that De Villiers does not wish to clang a lid on his presence in Test cricket, still the brand of the game that purists most treasure for prestige and statistical relevance, despite the multitude of threats to its future health.

That said, he has simultaneously indicated that if he is to retain optimal freshness and health for his big CWC 2019 quest, it will be impossible for him to represent the country in all matches, all the time.

As things stand, he remains the active South African batsman with the most career runs in the five-day format (8,074) and he would sport the best average (50.46) if it weren’t for the fact that No 7 wunderkind Quinton de Kock stands at 51.04 – admittedly in an immeasurably more infant career thus far, which can skew things a fair bit.

He still walks into the SA Test XI on those figures, of course … but as we all know, walks can be through minefields in our complex, intriguing domestic sports climate, and De Villiers isn’t doing too much at present to make things straightforward, it seems.

CSA are at pains to say the player isn’t picking and choosing games, and negotiations are “ongoing” to work out exactly how -- and when -- De Villiers will be deployed.

But it remains a slightly jarring development that he has made himself unavailable for the three Tests against the Black Caps, which come after the limited-overs portion of the NZ tour; he ought to be just approaching best sharpness again by then, following his lengthy sidelining in recent months.

Does that mean he expects to be in the mix for the glamour, four-Test series for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy in England during the northern hemisphere summer? And isn’t that … well, precisely a pick-and-choose situation?

Then again, if there are any conspiracy theorists lurking, there may be the temptation to wonder whether the Proteas didn’t wish to have to contend quite yet with the hot potato of precisely how (shh … even whether?) to accommodate De Villiers in the Test line-up in New Zealand.

Team make-up, let’s not lose sight of, is a more complicated balancing act for South Africa than it is any other country: is it almost “convenient” for the powers that be that De Villiers won’t be in the Test plans in the Land of the Long White Cloud?

Things are beginning to get just a little weird over Abraham Benjamin de Villiers … and weirdness may not guarantee a consistently contended dressing room.

Diplomacy is going to have to be delicate.

Or else … boom?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ab de villiers  |  cricket
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