Jonhenry Wilson gives us his take on the AB de Villiers saga that has been dividing opinion among South African cricket fans.
Faf du Plessis is right – AB de Villiers can do whatever he wants. This is not 2005, de Villiers no longer only has himself to think about and has climbed cricket’s tough pecking order for more than a decade – he must be afforded this self-imposed Test match hiatus.
This is 2017, he is a father of two, has 100-plus Test matches and almost 20,000 runs in international cricket to his name – Cricket South Africa must be willing to oblige his demands, comfortably.
Suggestion, even insistence, that de Villiers’ absence from the recent Test series against England proved the difference between triumph and defeat is entirely misplaced. Even if the talismanic right-hander was present – and matched or bettered the performances of, say, Joe Root or Ben Stokes – the Proteas still would have lost. Had he been there and proved prolific, their over-reliance on him – as is the case in limited-overs cricket – would have been evident.
The public are fickle, the pundits self-serving. De Villiers was damned because he didn’t, but the team’s future would have been damned if he did. Yes, Test series defeat to the petulant Stuart Broad and company smarts, but that hurt will subside when the hand de Villiers forced by not extending his stay in the United Kingdom reaps reward.
The signs are early, but intriguingly evident. Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock are in the process of permanent moves up the order, Theunis de Bruyn is not far away from solid runs against Bangladesh – and Aiden Markram will be in the preferred XI soon enough. At least three of these four personnel and positional requirements would have remained dormant, had de Villiers played in the Test series. Light, indeed, has been shone on a subject that was being ignored, subject to de Villiers always being around.
Substantial individual and collective onus, though, sits with Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla. Neither can falter during what is increasingly proving a cliched transitional phase: no de Villiers, no Dale Steyn, new head coach. Their performances – far more than those de Villiers could’ve / should’ve / would’ve put in – are rightly under the microscope.
While many will deem Ashwell Prince and Herschelle Gibbs’ recent comments on social media central to the debate of de Villiers’s choices, their words were stuck in somewhat of a time warp, when the influence of the Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League and other cash-rich Twenty20 tournaments were not influential.
Gibbs enjoyed some profitability in the CPL through the tail end of his waning playing days, while Prince is privy to the pound-heavy pay cheques associated with NatWest t20 Blast cricket for the Lancashire Lightning. Neither, though, can genuinely attest to the lure of the IPL, etc, at the pique of one’s career. De Villiers, wife and children in tow, will be the first to admit it’s a massive consideration.
A cricketer – with renewed priorities – shouldn’t be questioned too often by the country he serves loyally enough, particularly when the security and permanence of half as much travelling, twice as much time with his family, three times as much money and four times as many faithful fans is constantly on offer abroad. Like the West Indies and Chris Gayle, the Proteas would rather have de Villiers picking and choosing when and where to play – than not at all.