It was a usual Wednesday evening. As a freelancer, I have the liberty to choose if I want to write on a particular day or not. I chose to finish my work by afternoon and spend the rest of the day with my sister-in-law who has come down to Bombay for a couple of days. She is set to head to South Africa for an adventurous road trip. Just when we were discussing her trip to the Proteas’ land while taking a walk, co-incidentally, South Africa’s legendary cricketer AB de Villiers’ tweet appeared as a notification: “Standby for an important announcement in an hour, at 4 pm SA time today!” And suddenly, something that is no less than a nightmare for most of us, began to turn into reality. “I think he has retired!,” I said to her.
I’m certain that that tweet intimidated most of the cricket followers from my generation. We belong to the “AB de Villiers” era and it is more than difficult to imagine cricket without him. The former South African Test captain had been hinting his exit from the longest format of cricket for a while then. The social media immediately filled up posts about him and people couldn’t wait for the video to be released to know what big news de Villiers had for everyone and hoping it was “not that what we were thinking.”
The dramatic news!
An hour later the video was out and cricket followers took a sigh of relief as de Villiers wasn’t retiring from Test cricket. De Villiers, who had been South Africa’s ODI captain for six years now, had decided to step down from the role and made himself available for all the three formats for South Africa from late-September when South Africa begin their home season.
The last time he played a Test was in January 2016 against England. He had captained the Proteas in the last two Tests against England, which South Africa lost. It was his Test captaincy debut and after the two losses, he would never lead the side again in Tests. He went on to miss Test series against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka last summer, as well as the four Tests against England last month, saying at the start of this year that he wanted a break from Test cricket in an attempt to lengthen his international career with an eye specifically on the 2019 World Cup.
AB de Villiers steps down as South Africa's ODI captain, available for all three formats from mid-October onwards. pic.twitter.com/ONVwzf8qVT
— The Cricketer (@TheCricketerMag) August 23, 2017
After South Africa triumphed over Australia in an away series, de Villiers passed the baton to Faf du Plessis and freed himself from the demanding Test captaincy. De Villiers, who had not hesitated to express disappointment when Hashim Amla was picked ahead of him to succeed Graeme Smith as South Africa’s Test skipper, unexpectedly had begun to sideline the format altogether. It was getting a bit hard to digest this side of the most-loved cricketer. In the last 12 months or so, there have been several debates if de Villiers was right or wrong for ignoring Test cricket only for keeping himself fit enough for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.
A cricketer, who has been known to serve his nation under any circumstances; who has led a fight as a lone warrior in several crucial matches, today was under scrutiny for putting himself ahead of the team. There is a saying, “never judge a book by its cover.” De Villiers was thrashed with critical comments without finding out his side of the story.
Clearing the misunderstanding, de Villiers said, “Together with Cricket South Africa, we have tried to develop a viable schedule which allows me to prolong my career for as long as possible. This strategy has prompted some people to say I am picking and choosing when to play for the Proteas, and even to suggest I am somehow putting myself before the team. That is simply not true.
“That has never been true. Playing for South Africa is, and will always be, the greatest privilege of my life,” he said in the video.
The 33-year-old has suggested that the long break has helped him revive himself and he has assured his availability to the national selectors in all three format of the game during the coming season.
Road to CWC 2019
South Africa are set to host Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Australia. Apart from Australia, the other three teams will be playing a full fledged series inclusive of all three formats, while Australia will play only Tests. Bangladesh will be the next team to visit the Proteas. Considering Bangladesh beat South Africa in the 50-over series the last time these two locked horns, it will be crucial to have de Villiers in the side. He had missed the tour when South Africa toured Bangladesh where they drew the Test series and lost the ODI series.
De Villiers’ presence will be crucial not only as a batsman but also as a support to whoever will be South Africa’s next ODI captain. Knowing how well du Plessis has led them in T20Is and Tests, he will be the obvious choice. De Villiers, with 59 victories from 103 ODIs as captain, he is South Africa’s third successful ODI captain behind Hansie Cronje and Graeme Smith. Keeping in mind the World Cup 2019, the upcoming series are extremely vital for de Villiers and South Africa. The results in these series will define the ultimate team for the World Cup.
After Bangladesh, Sri Lanka will fly down to South Africa for three Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is. However, their next big series would be when India tour South Africa in January 2018, The two sides are set to play two Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is. South Africa have an incredible record at home against India; when Virat Kohli and Co visit the Proteas at their backyard, they will be aiming for India’s first-ever series win both limited-overs and Test. Considering how strong the Indian team is right now, the presence of de Villiers in the side will only bolster South Africa’s confidence.
Bolster Proteas in Tests
South Africa have won the ICC Test mace almost three times in the last five years and it is only in the last year of so, their downfall has begun. Although they won in away tours such as Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, they faced a heavy defeat in England. South Africa’s 1-3 loss to England recently showed how terribly de Viliers’ experience and batsmanship was missed in the middle-order. The Skipper, du Plessis, made a mess out of the No. 4 position by changing it with every match. He was forced to do as they were short of one guy in the middle and he just could not decide if he should promote himself up one place or not.
With de Villiers in, the batting line-up will have to undergo a little bit of reshuffling and a new line-up must mend South Africa’s crisis in the middle-order.
According to the reports, the 22-year-old and Under-19 star Aiden Markram is all set to replace Heino Kuhn at the top as the opening partner of Dean Elgar. The veteran Hashim Amla will continue to bat at No. 3. Since Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock miserably failed at the vital No. 4, captain himself will take that place. De Kock has excellent numbers at No. 6 and that has cemented that spot for him. That has left de Villiers to take the No. 5 place in the Test side. The place in No. 5 has belonged to de Villiers since 2006. He has batted there 71 times, having scored 3,747 runs at 61.42.
Bavuma, the current holder of No. 5 spot, in the absence of de Villiers has managed only an average at 31.60 after 24 Tests with just one hundred under his belt and he seems to be the scape goat at the moment in order to fit de Villiers in the line-up. Or the other option might be dropping the all-rounder Chris Morris at No. 7.
With de Villiers return, it will be a matter of time, this South African team will regroup and commence their conquering the best. Their upcoming home season can help them in that, provided they do well. Every team is dominant at home and South Africa is no different. With de Villiers back, the balance has returned in the side and he will take no time in getting back into the groove and lead South Africa with the bat. He can do that with a lot of more freedom, now that there is no responsibility of captaincy on his shoulders. With a few years left in his career, he will surely work towards mentoring the young in the side, win as many matches as he can for South Africa and in no time the so-called “selfish” image will become a distant memory.