There is a Proteas future for AB de Villiers if he wants it, writes RYAN VREDE.
De Villiers retired from international cricket in 2018. South Africans went into mourning. Indeed, the pain of that decision was felt throughout the cricketing world.
De Villiers said he didn’t have the appetite for the demands of the game any longer. He wanted to focus on T20 franchise cricket around the world.
As Saffas processed their pain, many lashed out, accusing him of a lack of patriotism. Others asserted that his financial greed had trumped his love of country.
Then, in December 2019, newly-appointed Proteas coach Mark Boucher revealed that he was open to trying to lure De Villiers back. In mid-January, De Villiers was asked about a possible return.
‘There’s a lot that needs to happen before that becomes reality. I would love to. I’ve been talking to “Bouch”, Graeme Smith and Faf [du Plessis] back home, we’re all keen to make it happen,’ he said.
‘It’s a long way away still, and plenty can happen – there’s the IPL coming up, I’ve still got to be in form at that time. So I’m thinking of throwing my name in the hat and hoping that everything will work out.
‘It’s not a guarantee, once again. I don’t want to disappoint myself or other people, so for now I’m just going to try and keep a low profile, try and play the best possible cricket that I can and then see what happens towards the end of the year.’
De Villiers has started the tournament he pinned as being decisive to a decision around an international return incredibly strongly. An unbeaten 55 off 24 deliveries on Monday evening took him to fifth on the tournament’s leading run-scorer’s list (134 runs in three innings). He averages 67 and, within the top 10, only Sanju Samson (214.86) has a superior strike rate (186.11).
De Villiers’ magic transcends his stats, though. Even at 36 years old, there are only a small handful of players in the game who can match his composure at the crease, his strike rate, his ability to hit good balls for boundaries, his innovation at the crease and his 360-degree scoring capacity.
The tournament is in its infancy and the wickets are undoubtedly batsman friendly, but De Villiers, through the strength of his performances and how that will inform his stated decision to play international cricket again, has made Proteas fans dream.
Those fans who needed De Villiers to prove his worth before a return should be satisfied. If they aren’t, their standards are impossibly high.
De Villiers, in his mind, needed to earn the right to be discussed in a Proteas context. He has done so. He has a Proteas future, particularly in the game’s shorter formats.
There is still no clarity around when the Proteas will play again. South Africa’s borders open on 1 October, but international sport is not yet approved. It almost certainly will be, at which point one should expect Cricket South Africa to move quickly to schedule matches.
This should not stop Boucher and Smith from acting decisively as it pertains to De Villiers’ international future. He needs to be tied in until the end of the T20 World Cup, which will be played in India a year from now. His return will instantly bolster the team’s chances of success, while his experience will be a welcome addition to a relatively young and inexperienced unit.
Through his performances, De Villiers has satisfied his self-imposed criteria for a return. He has done his bit. The ball is now in CSA’s court.