Johannesburg- If ever there was a case in point for how quickly our relationship sours with sportsmen when they choose themselves over what we’d like them to do, it would be AB de Villiers’ decision to not quite retire from Test match cricket.
After six months dominated by speculation over which poor bastard would have to make way for him in the Proteas’ Test batting line-up once he recovered from his elbow injury, South Africa’s most gifted batsman came out and said nobody had to move because he wasn’t coming back just yet.
Instead of a collective sigh of relief that a Proteas team – which has looked unbeatable in his absence by winning three Test series and climbing their way back from seventh to third in the rankings – didn’t have to be separated, De Villiers has copped abuse and taken unsolicited advice.
De Villiers’ rationale for delaying his Test availability until at least the home series against India was logical enough.
He would like to captain the side to the 2019 World Cup and feels his body may not be able to handle all three formats to deliver him to that quest.
At almost 33, De Villiers – who is the embodiment of a superhero when in full flight – is right to start sparing himself for a host of reasons. Although recovered, he says he can still feel pain in his elbow when he plays certain shots.
Secondly, he might be balletic to look at when he’s playing, but it is at a physical cost as back, hamstring and elbow injuries have consistently nicked away at his body.
And by the time the World Cup rolls around, he would have played international cricket in all formats for 15 years straight.
Priorities have changed
We all like to prattle on about how Test cricket is exactly that, a test of character and technique.
What we forget is that 90 overs every day for five days is also a test physically, which is why so many promising Australian quicks spend so much time in some place called the red zone.
The biggest argument against De Villiers’ chosen path to the World Cup is that he is cherry-picking his assignments over the two and a half years or so before that.
But as South Africa’s most gifted batsman, he’s sort of earned the right.
We like to labour under the misapprehension that all animals are equal.
If Faf du Plessis’s anger with the Proteas selectors for holding Hashim Amla back during the ODI series against the Australians last year to give Rilee Rossouw a run is not enough to convince us of the fact that said animals are not equal, nothing ever will.
So what if De Villiers wants his bread buttered on both sides?
Just because convention says you can’t have it both ways does not mean man has ever stopped trying.
De Villiers has realised that he is getting older; that his priorities have changed from highlighting his hair and playing bad music; and he has seen pretty much all there is to see in cricket.
All he wants is to underline his outrageous gifts not with more runs or even money, like some people have suggested, but with a trophy that has cruelly eluded South Africa.
De Villiers has said he will decide whether to abandon his World Cup plan after playing the eight-Test series against India and Australia, which means Cricket SA must work hard at finding a replacement for him even though he is in the Proteas’ ODI team.
And finally, just because we can now “befriend” sports stars on social media doesn’t mean we can tell them what to do with their lives like we tell our real friends to get rid of their hideous red shoes.