Proteas in Australia

New plan over AB’s ‘keeping?

2012-11-05 12:09
AB de Villiers (Gallo)
Cape Town - There could be a new twist in the complex issue of senior Proteas Test batsman AB de Villiers’s additional responsibilities as wicketkeeper.

If national coach Gary Kirsten has his way, De Villiers may actually settle in for the long haul as designated gloveman in Tests -- and instead surrender that role in the two limited-overs arenas, where he is also busy establishing himself on the captaincy front.

South Africa also intend calling on the advisory services of multiple record-breaking predecessor Mark Boucher to help De Villiers blossom further behind the stumps.

It had initially been widely speculated that De Villiers would more probably ‘keep at Test level only as an interim measure, in the aftermath of veteran Boucher’s international career-ending freak eye injury at the start of the 2012 series in England.

De Villiers immediately took the gloves for the victorious Test series there, and did a decent job in conditions known to be challenging – so much so that extending the role to another key challenge, in Australia, quickly became a logical prospect.

On the negative side, the versatile 28-year-old has been less imposing at the crease since going behind the stumps, and an additional concern is his occasionally flaring back trouble.

But in an interview with Sport24 just ahead of the three-Test challenge in Australia (the second and final part will be published on Tuesday), Kirsten provided some illuminating views on the De Villiers situation.

“The situation is this: we feel that AB at the moment is the best ‘keeper in the country. So if he’s your best gloveman what format do you want to use him in? Definitely in Test cricket.

“The other thing about him is that for a long time now he’s been exposed to international competition so he’s comfortable in that space.

“By his own admission he feels he would like to still improve his ‘keeping; he’s spent a lot of time, worked really hard.

“We will hopefully be able to use Mark (Boucher) also to really assist him on that side, especially when we get back from Australia and there’s a bit of time.

“We really want to engage him in that because AB has stated that he wants to be No 1 Test ‘keeper in the country – which is brilliant because it gives so much balance to the XI; now we can pick a No 7 batsman.”

Kirsten suggested that one-day internationals may become the environment for the Proteas to experiment with a young wicketkeeper.

Although he would not commit to names, presumably the likes of Quinton de Kock and Dane Vilas, both of whom offer known batting oomph, will enter the radar.

“AB is now also captain in both limited-overs formats, so maybe we must actually get creative in ODIs in terms of ‘keeping: that could be the opportunity to look at a young guy. That might be a young ‘keeper’s entry point, a format where we can take a punt on a new player.

“This is not even something I’ve discussed in any (depth) with AB; he is willing in the meantime to do all three formats. But I do think that captaining, batting up front and ‘keeping in 50-overs cricket is tough, perhaps a bit too much so.”

Here are some of the other questions put to Kirsten, specific to the Australian series:

Your Test “first XI” is unusually settled at present … is it unlikely to be tampered with for day one of the first Test at the Gabba on Friday?

All things being equal, it’s unlikely our team will change at all, barring injury. There’s always an issue around form if a guy really loses touch and you might have to look at one (outsider) but certainly one of our ways has been to try to give people comfort in their positions. We want to give guys proper runs and not have to look too much over the shoulder. Jacques Rudolph was a classic case in point. He got picked last year, to open the batting, but Viri (Alviro Petersen) was playing really good cricket again and we realised we had to get him back in. But we did want to give Jacques that proper run I mentioned, so we were able to create new position for him.

Is there a danger you’re running into an Aussie team on the cusp of a new era in high-quality fast bowling?

Yes, perhaps ... but I’m looking forward to that, if so. If their attack may feature some youngsters, well, ours is a well experienced pace bowling unit. They’ve done it at international level over a good period of time now. That’s a big (factor). The one thing about this particular South African team ... throw any challenge at them! We’re confident we’ve got our bases covered. Opponents will have to play very well at big moments to beat us.

With the Gabba and WACA on the itinerary , is it a sign that the Aussies do intend pinning their hopes in pace to knock the Proteas over?

If that’s their strategy then, exactly the same as what happened in England this year, we’re excited by that. Because we have our (arsenal) as well. England were speaking the same language ahead of our series with them: wanted the ball swinging and going around a bit. And we showed we had the bases covered.

Is it fair to say that if you suddenly lost a senior strike-bowling Steyn or Morkel to injury, the Proteas might suddenly not be looking quite so formidable?

They’re big players, so to fill those shoes ... maybe that is a bit of a grey area for us. The truth is we haven’t really exposed, or had (reason to), someone at international level in those positions. I mean, Vernon (Philander) is the newest. So who’s the next guy? We’ve brought Rory Kleinveldt in to have look at him – he’s been incredibly dependable at first-class level, but no Test match experience. So there are two ways of looking at it; either it’s a great step up for a guy in a hostile environment, or we’ll know where we are again.

The Mickey Arthur factor: do you have any concern over what he knows about South Africa’s mental and tactical makeup?

I think the main effect could actually be a great motivational boost to our players ... I remember when Duncan (Fletcher) was coaching England and he was telling the England players all about the Herschelle Gibbses, Jacques Kallises and Gary Kirstens. I know for me it served as a real motivation to make them change their plan.

Two 37-year-old batsmen go head to head, and there have always been great Kallis/Ponting comparisons down the years ... could they be influential in the outcome of this series?

It’s difficult to say with players at that stage of their careers ... one thing is for sure: you want to let sleeping dogs die. Because champions of the world, when you tell them they can’t play, that they’re no longer good enough ... that’s when they step up. I rather like to be cautious, then, with regard to Ricky Ponting and I think Australia will be the same with Jacques Kallis – don’t challenge him or tell him he can’t play anymore!

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

HAVE YOUR SAY:What do you think of SA coach Gary Kirsten's thinking for AB de Villiers to scale down the glove-work in the ODI arena rather than Tests? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

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