“We all concur that those who get to play sport for a living are very privileged. If only we were good enough to play the games we loved playing as children for good money. Professional athletes are rightly seen as being perched on a place of high privilege. And yet they are men and women like the rest of us, with their own ideas of how they want to pursue their lives and careers. Like us they can be beset by uncertainty and often dither over decisions”.
The apparent reluctance of South African batting maestro, AB de Villiers to resume his Test career has come as a jolt to many cricket fans. Recently returning to the game after a long lay-off due to injury, the former Test team captain seems to be unnecessarily delaying his long-awaited return to whites.
Having undergone elbow surgery, De Villiers missed the last three test series. Now, fully recovered, he has chosen to make himself unavailable for South Africa’s next series and has exhibited a general hesitancy to extend what has been a stellar Test career to date. The highly inventive batsman is relentlessly recruited for cricket’s lucrative Twenty/20 leagues. Having previously uttered complaints about his burdensome workload, he might be attracted to living out the rest of his cricketing days as a T/20 gun-for-hire.
South Africa’s coach, Russell Domingo, certainly seems to think there is a chance he might not return to cricket’s longest and most demanding format. This is what he had to say: “We need to sit down with him and plan his future. AB has got to make that decision, I can’t decide on whether he plays or not.”
His teammate, friend, and Test captain also seem uncertain of De Villiers’ future in tests.” I’m not sure how AB will feel in terms of Test cricket so we will have to see,” du Plessis remarked. “We are excited to have him back in the one-day team. I am hoping he decides to play (Tests) for us. He is obviously a world-class batter and I, as a captain, would love to have him as a leader in our team, and obviously as a batter. He is a fantastic player.”
One thing is certain, there is no team in the long history of the game that would not welcome De Villiers, one of the game’s best, to their ranks. With due respect to the likes of Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Chris Lynn and Chris Gayle, the South African is probably the game’s foremost batting virtuoso. There is no current batsman more capable of unleashing a fusillade of thrilling strokes in every direction. And the times he’s been at the crease since his return to action shows he has hardly missed a beat.
Infinitely skilled, he has shown as much composure battling Mitchell Johnson at his quickest and most intimidating in 2013 as he has unlocking the mysteries of Ravichandran Ashwin on deceitful surfaces in India in 2015. To watch him at his best, in whichever format, is to experience the gratification one gets watching a master craftsman plying his trade.
It is no wonder, then, that some followers of the game have expressed acute disappointment, even anger, at AB de Villiers’indecisiveness over his future in Tests. There has been talk that the batsman is somehow selfish; that rather than being concerned about what is best for his country, he is concerned only about his own preferences; that he’d rather chase after T/20 dough, thereby depriving South Africa of his eminent capabilities as a Test batsman.
But are we being fair to De Villiers when we think along those lines? Many of us seem to think that sportsmen are there only for our entertainment and have little right to self-actualization. We believe that like performers in a circus they are there to perform only for our pleasure. We seem to think that De Villiers has no right to give up Tests, if that’s his desire, thereby depriving us of the pleasure of viewing him in that format. Perhaps we are the selfish ones.
“My priorities have changed over the years‚” the batsman said. “I have played for over 12 odd years‚ family has changed‚ my roles in the team have changed over the years and there are a lot of things that have played a role in this decision.”Individuals frequently rearrange their priorities. Why should De Villiers be any different?
I loved watching Brian Lara bat. Many of us in the Caribbean were convinced the left-hander wielded the most exciting blade in the game. Fairly early in his career, he had a few problems with the West Indies cricket authorities and opted out of a tour to Australia. I was angry. The Trinidadian was willful, selfish, I thought. Doesn’t he realize how much hope we all had invested in him? Didn’t he realize that much of the West Indies’ hopes of success rested on his youthful shoulders?
But I soon realized I had no real concern for Lara – no concern for the troubles he might have been experiencing; no concern for his well-being. I was thinking only of myself — the excitement I’d be missing; the losses we were more likely to suffer because of his absence. I was the one that was selfish.
Why do we think it’s our place to feel cheated whenever a sportsman decides on some career decision with which we disagree? If and when De Villiers chooses to make himself available for Tests then the South African authorities will have to decide, taking issues such as team make-up and chemistry into consideration, whether or not it is wise to reinstate him. It is difficult to imagine any team not being better for having him in it, but it could be that the South African team could be wary of any fallout his sudden reinstatement may attract. That being said, the decision to make himself available will always lie with the batsman. It will be up to the decision makers of the team to take him up on his offer to play.
We all concur that those who get to play sport for a living are very privileged. If only we were good enough to play the games we loved playing as children for good money.Professional athletes are rightly seen as being perched on a place of high privilege. And yet they are men and women like the rest of us, with their own ideas of how they want to pursue their lives and careers. Like us they can be beset by uncertainty and often dither over decisions.
De Villiers claims to be eyeing visits to South Africa by Australia and India for the 2017-18 season for his return to Tests. It will be great for cricket if he does. Still, if he does not, then we all need to appreciate his choice. Disappointment may be in order, but there will be no need to feel slighted.