AB de Villiers is probably the best batsman to have ever played for South Africa, and the temptation to try pry him out of retirement is understandable. Still, it’s hard to argue that a recall for ‘Mister 360’ would serve the game in the long term.
If the Proteas and Cricket South Africa had not treated Twenty20 Internationals like the black sheep of the family, the temptation to lure the great man out of retirement might not be as great.
T20Is are squeezed into bilateral cricket to maximise profits for CSA, but the lack of a cohesive selection policy has meant that these matches are of little benefit to the Proteas from a team-development point of view. They have been used to blood young players but with little or no rhyme or reason.
The 2020 schedule is likely to have a few more T20Is than usual, and the Proteas team management might even take the matches seriously with the T20 World Cup looming.
The big question regarding De Villiers is: will he be available to play any bilateral T20I cricket through the season?
The Proteas will play three T20Is against England, another three on a whirlwind white-ball tour of Australia and five more on the trip to the Caribbean in mid-year.
Added to that Pakistan have invited the team for a brief series, pencilled in for March. All told, the Proteas should play 11 to 14 T20Is before the T20 World Cup in Australia.
It is unlikely that de Villiers will be able to make himself available for all of those, especially the trip to Pakistan, which could also see a number of other regulars refuse to tour.
De Villiers feels that he is in the form of his life at the moment, but gauging where he is at is complicated when he only plays franchise cricket of varying standards.
Management will have to decide what conditions, if any, they impose on De Villiers’ return. They will also need to weigh the long-term effects of granting a place in the team to a player who is unwilling or unable to commit to the unit fully.
Another question CSA and the Proteas need to ask is whether De Villiers will change his mind at the last minute, leaving the team scrambling to replace him again.
The director of cricket is the man who should be determining the path forward for South African cricket, but Graeme Smith has only been appointed to the role for three months. Smith needs to convince CSA he can do the job long term in a short space of time. Given these conditions, it is easy to see why De Villiers is being seriously considered as an option.
If De Villiers can fire the Proteas to the T20 World Cup title, it would put the cherry on top of his career and vindicate the decision to circumvent the selection policy.
A major ICC trophy would cover a multitude of sins committed by those who run cricket in South Africa, but another failure would paint all involved in an unflattering light.
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