He had dreamt to lead South Africa in Tests ever since he knew he wanted to build a career in cricket. He admitted being disappointed when Hashim Amla was given the responsibility instead of him at the time of Graeme Smith’s retirement. Not many cricketers have been on par with his dedication for their team. He played 98 consecutive Tests since debut and when the streak broke began the gradual dip in his form. His dream eventually did turn into reality when Amla stepped down from captain’s position but the moment seemed like it came a tad late.
Following the two Tests, he led against England at home, injuries kept him out of the following series against New Zealand and Australia in 2016. Subsequent to that he self-imposed a sabbatical that meant he would be away from the Test side for the rest of the 2016 season and near entire 2017 as well. Then came rumours about he might give up on the five-day format to concentrate on the ODIs, keeping the World Cup 2019 in mind. The rumours suddenly were taken seriously after Smith passed a confirmation about them.
Had the speculation turned into reality, his last Test would show a pair of ducks beside his name. A Test century would have been 16 innings old and a half-century, five innings old then. He wouldn’t have won a series in the last two years of his Test career. He would bow out with memories which he could never make him happy.
For a player, who has served South Africa for 13 years, who oozes with talent and backs it with great temperament, who can smash any ball, anywhere, against any bowler in the world, an end like is nothing but unfair. The sport of cricket was lucky that AB de Villiers graced it with his presence; had rugby or tennis were showered with more luck, who knew, de Villiers being a fine rugby and tennis player could have made his career in either of those sports.
Being away from Test cricket for nearly two years and missing six Test series, de Villiers is all set to make a comeback in the five-day format when South Africa locks horns with Zimbabwe in the first-ever four-day Test.
Although de Villiers returned to international cricket after his long break earlier this year, he only played the ODIs and T20Is. He might not have made a huge impact in the ICC Champions Trophy, where South Africa had banked on him, de Villiers has had a decent year in the coloured jersey, having scored 773 runs in 19 ODIs at an average of 59.46. He even scored his career-best ODI score of 176 this year and that showed he was ready to get back in full-fledged action. All South Africa wanted him to get back the match fitness fully and that knock cleared any persisting doubts in that case.
Since de Villiers has always believed that there’s not a massive difference between the formats and its only the mindset thing, his touch so far with the white ball has indicated that he is well ready to return to Test cricket as well. He even played a good amount of T20 cricket in the Ram Slam league but his long-time back injury has not completely left him. “It’s not really a big problem. It’s a little niggle, something I have had for the last eight or nine years and something I have to manage with my workload,” de Villiers said recently.
Because of the niggle in the back, de Villiers took an off for a few days that saw him miss the tour match against Zimbabwe a few days back. That meant, de Villiers will walk into the four-day Test having played just one First-Class match since his last Test. He made scores of 5 and 32 in that game. But, he has been practising against the red ball since July at the University of Pretoria. He has even resolved some of his technical glitches in his game and has admitted being “more ready than ever to take it on (Test cricket).
With de Villiers’ arrival, South Africa’s team composition will have to be redone. They recently have opted to go with six batsmen, two all-rounders, two pacing spearheads and a spinner. The six batsmen are Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock and only Bavuma did not score a hundred against Bangladesh in their latest series. Since Bavuma also occupied de Villiers’ No. 4 spot, he seems more likely to be dropped.
South Africa Captain Faf du Plessis, who had been struggling a niggle in the lower back, picked up a viral infection just before the four-day Test. If he is not declared fit, Bavuma will retain his place and de Villiers will only replace the skipper. The Zimbabwe Test will only be a rehearsal for de Villiers before the upcoming big guns tour South Africa in 2018. Proteas are going to host India and Australia in the first three months of 2018 and if they want to reclaim the top rank, they will want their experienced players like de Villiers to step up.
“I want to contribute. I want to play knocks, have my say in the field with my experience and take some catches that can win games of cricket. We would like to be number one in the world, we are not far away. We know if we win a few series in the next three months against tough opposition we can achieve that,” a determined de Villiers said.