AB de Villiers will not be retiring from Test cricket, but South Africa’s one-day captain will sit out the upcoming series against New Zealand as he figures out the best way to manage his workload ahead of the 2019 World Cup. De Villiers has spent the past six months on the sidelines with an elbow injury, but is due to make his international comeback in the third Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka at Newlands on January 25.
Asked when he would be returning to the Test side, de Villiers said on Tuesday (January 17): “Not yet. I’m not there yet. The reason being that I just need to settle things in my head. Over the last few years something has come to mind, which is the fact that we haven’t won a World Cup yet. And for me to make it to the 2019 World Cup, I can’t really be serious in every format.
“So I’ve made myself unavailable for the New Zealand Test series. I will be there for the ODIs, and I’m definitely not retiring from Test cricket because I have plans to come back at some stage. For me, for now the most important thing is the 2019 World Cup. I want to make sure we get there, I want to make sure we lift that trophy. That’s the first goal for me.”
While de Villiers’ announcement suggested that he was being allowed to pick and choose the games that he wanted to play, and that there might be one rule for him and one for the other South African players, Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat denied it. Lorgat said that de Villiers had been given “the latitude of taking time off”, but that “once he gets back on the treadmill, it’s all the way through to 2019.”
“This is a plan that we had six months ago,” said Lorgat. “It’s just a case of when he starts or when he returns. Because once he starts, there’s no stopping and no time off. When you play, you play continuously. So he’s not picking and choosing. These are deliberate discussions that we’re having and which will continue.”
Lorgat added that as the captain of the one-day side, de Villiers was expected to play all of South Africa’s ODI matches. De Villiers was appointed Test captain in January 2016, but relinquished the post in December when it became clear that he would miss a third straight series through injury. South Africa’s next Test assignment after the three matches in New Zealand in March is a four-Test tour of England, and Lorgat hopes that de Villiers will be a part of it.
“What we’re doing and what we’ve tended to do is take it a series at a time. I’m confident that by the time we look at England and the Champions Trophy, he’ll be fully fit, raring to go, his appetite will have returned, because then it would be a fair amount of time (off) that he would have had,” Lorgat said. “I know family circumstances change people – having children and being at home for a while will make him very relaxed, but I’m confident that England is the type of series he will want to be involved in.”
De Villiers confirmed on Tuesday that his wife is expecting a second child, and admitted that family responsibilities were playing an increasing role in his decision making. “I’m 32 and things have changed. That’s part of life,” he said. “Hopefully I make the best possible decisions for my career and my family going forward. As I say, the best way for me to end my career will be with that World Cup trophy in my backyard, as well as a few other things I’d like to achieve.”
While the uncertainty around de Villiers’ long-term availability remains, South Africa have at least moved forward in his absence. When reports surfaced last January claiming that de Villiers was considering Test retirement, South Africa were in the middle of a harrow
ing home defeat to England and the prospect of losing one of their finest batsmen appeared debilitating. But they have subsequently won three Test series on the trot, beating New Zealand at home and Australia away, before whitewashing Sri Lanka.
“We’ve built the team without AB, and that’s a very big positive,” said Lorgat. “The absence of AB has allowed others to step up, and we’ve developed other players. It’s fantastic from my point of view that we have more than 11 that can take the field and be a winning formula.
“That’s why I’m favouring giving him the latitude to rest and to start thinking that we want you all the way through to 2019. Because it’s a fact of life, once you step on that treadmill, there’s no turning back.”