AB de Villiers was wrong to drive his own personal agenda for less cricket on the eve of the third Test against England.
I get it. Players want to make as much money as possible while playing to secure their financial future, and if you are as gifted as De Villiers there is a lot of money to be made. No T20 team in the world wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to sign him for their league, whether it be the IPL, the Big Bash or the Caribbean Premier League.
De Villiers is adored and admired by fans around the world and his humble persona makes him a favourite everywhere. He is South Africa’s biggest superstar in all formats of the game and he knows it.
Ever since the series against England started, De Villiers has used his press conferences to talk about his workload, the amount of cricket being played around the world and his commitment to the Test team.
In a way, his hand was forced after a Sunday newspaper recently claimed he was contemplating retiring from Test cricket. In a subsequent SuperSport interview De Villiers didn’t deny it, but talked about managing his workload instead.
He suggested the rumours to be true, saying at his pre-match press conference before the Wanderers Test: ‘There have been a few rumours floating around and in most rumours there is always a little bit of truth. It is not just in the last while, in the last two or three years I’ve been searching for the right answers to play a little bit less cricket in one way or another to keep myself fresh and to keep enjoying the game.’
I reckon he is secretly happy the rumours about his possible retirement got out because if or when it does happen, people won’t be as shocked. The foundation has been laid and everyone now believes he is unhappy with the current system.
He has told the media things such things as: ‘I’ve found myself on the pitch in the past few years, every now and then, not enjoying myself as much as I should be and that raises concerns within myself. I’m still very committed. To the job I’m not sure’.
Why bring this up the day before your team, of which you are the new captain, is due to play in a crucial, must-win Test against England? His timing was poor.
Players at the top levels are trained in dealing with the media and have ways of deflecting or avoiding giving straight answers if they feel like it, which is much of the time. De Villiers is generally honest in his assessment of his team’s performances but it was poor leadership on his part to raise those concerns before such a big game.
Even after the Wanderers Test De Villiers said: ‘I almost feel like all hope is gone, but I’m still the kind of guy that will get myself going for that last Test match and get the team going’.
De Villiers makes a lot of money. According to a list on the highest paid cricketers in the world by www.totalsportek.com, he comes in ninth with a yearly income of around $5.5 million (around R88 million on the current exchange rate). His IPL contract alone is worth around $1.5 million (around R24 million).
The problem Cricket South Africa face is they can’t compensate the Proteas players as well as other countries like Australia and England do with their top players. There is a reason players like James Anderson and others can afford not to play in the IPL and rather focus on Test cricket – they are paid very well by their boards to do so.
The rand is weak and CSA, who are not part of the so called ‘Big Three’ (India, Australia and England) can’t compete with the money on offer in the various T20 leagues around the world.
De Villiers said he gets tired during the season after he’s played in the IPL, but we can’t expect players to give up the IPL. It’s a game-changer that has become part of the international calendar and is here to stay. In a way it makes sense that De Villiers wanted to cut back on his Test duties considering he is captain of the ODI side, but now that he has also been handed the Test captaincy, albeit temporarily with a view for the long term, it changes things.
De Villiers’ standing in the game makes him the only South African player who can make these kinds of demands. While he may feel the crowded international calendar is a problem for everyone, it seems that South Africa will be more affected by it than teams like Australia and England if things continue the way they do.