For more than a decade, there has been a constant face at No. 5 or 6 in the South African Test line-up. He is their most dependable man in all aspects – batting, wicketkeeping or fielding – he has opened for reasonable number of times, in spite of being a middle-order specialist; he has kept wickets whenever South Africa needed him and more importantly, he had served South Africa in Tests for 11 continuous years, without missing a Test. Amidst his 106 Tests, 222 ODIs and 76 T20Is, AB de Villiers has been a part of South Africa’s three failed ICC Cricket World Cup campaigns. It goes without saying that when a cricketer begins his/her career, winning the coveted trophy is the ultimate goal.
With the passing time, de Villiers is not physically as strong as to excel across the formats and at an age of 33, at present, he eyes to give the Cricket World Cup one final shot. However, the tournament is still two years away. Unless he plays regularly and more importantly scores enough runs, it won’t be feasible for South Africa to keep him in the team. In order to keep his hopes high for the World Cup in 2019, he might have decided to give up on Test cricket.
The last Test de Villiers had played was in January 2016. England toured South Africa was a four-Test series and yet again, the hosts ended on the losing side against these opponents. Batting in the seven innings in the four Tests, de Villiers had only managed 210 runs at a poor average of 30. For a player of de Villiers’ calibre, just one fifty in the four Tests was clearly a warning sign.
A cricketer, who chose not to miss a Test for more than a decade, suddenly made himself unavailable for four Test series – Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England – after South Africa won the Test series in Australia, without the services of de Villiers, under the captaincy of Faf du Plessis, de Villiers stepped down as South Africa’s Test captain. It was widely known how badly he always wanted to lead the side in the Tests. he had even expressed sadness when Hashim Amla, ahead of de Villiers, was given the responsibility to succeed Graeme Smith in the longest format. The same de Villiers made a harsh call on himself, on his own.
After all these years, a cricket fan had stopped imagining a South African team without the face of the smiling de Villiers; without the ever energetic and inspiring de Villiers. However, with the recent happenings in de Villiers’ life, it seems like one has to get used to the fact that de Villiers might never play a Test again. Or at least make peace with the fact that he might play a couple of Test more before he broke the announcement, which no cricket follower wants to hear.
“I needed a bit of time away from the game and I need some more,” de Villiers said earlier in the year when he made himself unavailable for the rest of the South Africa’s Test season.
Although he revealed that he has been aiming at the India and Australia series later in the year and beginning of 2018, the current skipper du Plessis made a harsh, yet honest, statement regarding South Africa-sans de Villiers.
In a press conference after South Africa’s loss to England in the recently ended four-Test series, du Plessis said, “I would love AB to play – we all know how good he is and we missed him, but we’ve spent too much time talking about when he is going to come back. The hope of him coming back is something we need to move past, we need to find someone else to fulfil that role. If AB comes back it’s a huge bonus but I don’t expect him to come back into the Test team.”
De Villiers’ No. 5 and No. 6 position has new occupants now with du Plessis and the young Temba Bavuma respectively. The two have performed decently well and they have their numbers to back them here. Batting at No. 5, in just 16 Tests, the skipper already has 1000-plus runs and averages more than 40. He also has performed well at No. 4, which testifies that South Africa’s middle-order is in safe hands; but they still need another batsman at No. 4, considering the long term basis. On the other hand, despite Bavuma’s average is yet to shoot, his innings down the order has helped South Africa on a few occasions. It will take time for him etch himself as smooth as de Villiers at No. 6, but given time, he has shown glimpses of doing so. He is young, talented and certainly has the ability to become a regular No. 6 batsman in the Proteas’ Test squad.
A team is always above a player. The time has come when South Africa moves on; when AB de Villiers move on. A fine rugby player, golfer, and tennis player, the sport of cricket should be lucky that de Villiers chose cricket and graced the game with his play!