Cape Town - At least for the rest of this summer, still to
feature five home Tests for South Africa, expect the Proteas to stick
confidently now to the status quo of AB de Villiers batting at No 5 and keeping
wicket as well.
Who knows, the formula may even stretch a lot, lot further
than that ... and perhaps only be altered if there is a fresh flare-up of the
versatile player’s occasional back troubles.
On Sunday, as the Hashim Amla-anchored tourists only turned
the screws mercilessly on Australia in the decisive final Test at the WACA, De
Villiers went a long way to burying, for the time being, the debate that has
raged spiritedly around his suitability to both chores.
Video highlights: Australia v SA, third Test, Day 3
In returning to his pulsating best as an attacking batsman in
the monster South African second innings, with an innings of 169 that featured his
most vintage hand and footwork, the right-hander almost certainly ensured that
his (desired, importantly) dual role will continue.
Had he under-delivered with the blade again, the issue would
justifiably have returned to the team strategists’ table, even if there is also
no guarantee that a decision would have been taken to actually relieve him of
There has been a fair amount of statistical ammunition,
after all, to suggest that ‘keeping has been impeding his ability to contribute
to prior known standards in a key slot in the Proteas’ order.
Since assuming the wicketkeeping role as a result of Mark
Boucher’s forced retirement, De Villiers had not managed so much as a
half-century in nine knocks and his Aussie series had shown only 107 runs in five.
But all batsmen go through lean spells and former national
captain Kepler Wessels is just one of many commentators who insist that there
is no link.
Wessels said behind the SuperSport microphone in Perth on
Sunday: “He just had some issues with his footwork, that were resolved today –
his form had absolutely nothing to do with the wicketkeeping issue.
“He has put the whole question to rest with this display.”
Indeed, it is hard to imagine De Villiers not banking
anything but huge confidence from the WACA knock, which also represented his
fifth highest score in 135 turns at the Test crease and helped caress his
average (49.11) back closer to the treasured 50-mark.
Perhaps critics forget that the 28-year-old crowd-pleaser
has had previous batting dips in his largely stellar career, when he has been
nowhere near the ‘keeping slot.
There was a pretty lengthy period between April 2005 and
January 2008, for instance, when he went 44 Test innings without a century,
although that partly coincided with the closing phase of his chapter as an
It is also worth remembering that in an interview with
Sport24 before the team’s departure for Down Under, coach Gary Kirsten candidly
indicated that De Villiers keenly wanted to confirm himself as the country’s
best gloveman in the extended format.
He also hinted that if the player did, in fact, scale back his
responsibilities behind the stumps, it might now more realistically come in the
That could be music - maybe even as early as New Zealand’s
presence on South African soil later this month? - to the ears of potential
candidates like Dane Vilas, Quinton de Kock or Heino Kuhn.
At the same time, De Villiers’s sumptuous return to prime
batting form may mean the luckless, patient Thami Tsolekile has to wait even
longer for any possible additions to his last Test appearance, as far back as
December 2004 against England at Port Elizabeth.
There can be no doubting that De Villiers wearing the Test
gloves greatly aids the balance of the Proteas’ five-day team, even if the
discussion is unlikely to go completely quiet.
That sound Australian cricketing judge Tom Moody has made
the point that, with Jacques Kallis in his twilight, the onus may only increase
in the coming years on De Villiers to make weighty middle-order runs.
Moody believes that De Villiers beefing his Test average to
the mid-50s, as he fancies he can, may well depend on the freedom not to have
to ‘keep ...
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing