Proteas: AB creates and ‘solves’ problem

2016-09-27 19:20
AB de Villiers (Getty Images)

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 Under.

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 heavyweight challenges.

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 represents.

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 over 50?

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 foes.

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 …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


Read more on:    proteas  |  ab de villiers  |  cricket


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