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
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
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
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
Diplomacy is going to have to be delicate.
Or else … boom?
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