Cape Town – It would be blisteringly obvious to say that by
losing the services of AB de Villiers, South Africa have been struck a savage
blow for their successive major summer assignments at one-day international and
Test level against old foes Australia.
So, er, there … I duly stated it anyway.
De Villiers would have been captain for both the imminent
five-game ODI series on our soil, and then the November away three-Test roster,
where the Proteas will be bidding for a fairy-tale third triumph in a row Down
But the feared confirmation from Cricket South Africa on Tuesday
that he requires elbow surgery, which will side-line him for international
purposes at least until the arrival of Sri Lanka in the middle portion of the
season, means the national side sacrifice their most blazing stroke-player –
ranked first on the planet in ODIs and sixth in the Test landscape – for both
At a time when they are still gradually adjusting to a
dressing room without steely scrappers like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Alviro
Petersen and Mark Boucher, giving up De Villiers for the glamour Test series,
in particular, undoubtedly lessens the likelihood of the regrouping Proteas
repeating their conquests in Oz of 2008/09 and 2012/13.
It will also ignite fresh, rueful debate about the taxing
demands of the general global treadmill – country or franchise -- in all
formats, with the 32-year-old De Villiers clearly having reached a point where
physical over-use has taken a cruelly untimely toll on him and the country he
Why wouldn’t the Proteas feel that crucial bit more
vulnerable and short of a heavy weapon against Oz, when De Villiers sports well
over 8,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs and at averages in each case of well
He has five centuries from 20 Tests against the Aussies,
either home or away, and certainly played his fulsome part in both triumphs on
their shores under the prior leadership of Smith.
In the last one, he crucially ended an unusually mediocre
personal trot statistically in the second innings of the decisive third and
final encounter at Perth, bludgeoning 169 in a total of 569 that really knocked
the stuffing out of the hosts.
But he had also, in a famous rear-guard draw at Adelaide one
Test earlier, defied his attack-minded instincts to face 220 balls for a key
innings of 33 at a strike rate of a freakishly miserly – for him -- 15.
Those are the qualities and wisdom that the Proteas will now
be without for the next few weeks against their toughest southern hemisphere
It matters rather less, in truth, in the ODI series which
does not possess special relevance or gravitas (the Aussies have left some
incisive bowlers at home, for instance) especially as it is held nowhere near
the lead-up to another World Cup yet.
Of course De Villiers would have put a few welcome extra
bums on local seats over the next couple of weeks, but most of the venues
should be reasonably near capacities anyway.
His Test absence is the rather more “big deal” matter, even
if Faf du Plessis shapes as an obvious and quite assuring tour captaincy
replacement; De Villiers will also miss out on the Proteas’ maiden experience
of a floodlit Test in Adelaide.
But his withdrawal does, inadvertently, help settle one burning
issue already occupying plenty of minds in the lead-up to that series: which of
several compelling batsmen would have been odd man out in the likely
seven-strong line-up (a recent SA norm) in that department for the first clash
at the WACA?
Both De Villiers and regular opener Dean Elgar missed out
through injury on helping the Proteas impressively secure a short series
against New Zealand at Centurion a few weeks ago, and were expected back for
the Aussie trip.
That would have forced some tricky calls on who to omit, but
the top seven now shapes up (assuming Elgar is fighting fit) as: Cook, Elgar,
Amla, Du Plessis (capt), Duminy, Bavuma, De Kock. Stiaan van Zyl would probably
be the next-off-rank batting customer on tour.
De Villiers leaves a gaping, mortifying hole, for sure. Yet that
is also no list, minus him, to spark especially pronounced sleepless nights for
South African fans, either …
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