Sport

Doth one innings a keeper-batsman make?

By Ant Sims 5 December 2012

Since taking over the gloves from Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers looked a shadow of his usual trail-blazing self. That was until he hit 169 in Perth. But does one blistering innings mean the Test keeper glove still fits De Villiers? By ANT SIMS.

Just a few months ago, whenever AB de Villiers was asked about possibly taking over the gloves, he would shy away from the question. He’d say that he was too prone to back injuries and that it wasn’t something he thought he’d ever do.

Now, whenever De Villiers is asked about the wicketkeeping issue, there’s nothing else he wants to do, and he insists that the media are blowing things out of proportion. He insists that keeping wicket has absolutely not had an impact on his batting and it certainly hasn’t worsened his injury.

Whether it had an impact on him physically remains debatable, but there’s one thing he has done Down Under: scored runs.

After a grinding innings in Adelaide to help save face for South Africa, the 28-year-old hit a swashbuckling 169 in Perth, with the kind of flair and resolve he has so long been known for. His celebration when he brought up his ton said it all. It was a mark of a man who so desperately wanted to succeed in the challenges he had set for himself that, if he didn’t have any sense, he would have pulled out a Denesh Ramdin-type scribble from his pocket with the words: “Yeh talk nah” embossed on it.

Since taking over the gloves, the most runs in an innings de Villiers had managed was 47 and he averaged a paltry 25.23. Slumps in form happen, but when slumps in form happen after the culmination of a career-changing event, the microscope will always be firmly fixed on the player in question.

De Villiers was vehement in his own self-belief after that knock in Perth, and insisted that staying behind the stumps actually made him less tired. 

“Obviously, there’s a bit of added pressure on me with the gloves in hand. It’s been coming for a while now. Can I score runs with the gloves? Luckily I did today,” De Villiers said after his knock.

“I honestly believe I don’t get as tired when I’m keeping. When you are in the field and running up and down, it’s really hard work and it can be mentally draining as well. When I’m keeping, I have 30 yards to run between overs and that’s it. I’ve got to expect the ball a bit more often but I love being in the game, it keeps me on my toes and I’m really loving having the gloves in hand.”

It is, of course, a 180 on what he had to say a few months ago. And that’s fine. Opinions change all the time. Some thought England was the best team in the world before they went to the United Arab Emirates and got rolled over. Others thought Imran Tahir was a quality Test spinner.

It was always Gary Kirsten’s plan to stick with De Villiers until the end of the Australian tour, despite Thami Tsolekile being handed a central contract earlier in the year. But whether a single brilliant knock, combined with a scrappy innings to save a Test, is enough to convince Kirsten and company that De Villiers should remain behind the stumps is another story.

South Africa never really adequately prepared for life after Mark Boucher, and while he was always going to retire at the end of the England series, his career was tragically cut short with a horrific injury in England before the series even started. It’s not easy to replace somebody like Boucher and while De Villiers is a good stop gap, the physical toll of keeping – and keeping up appearances with the bat in all formats – might be a destructive force in De Villiers’ career. The 28-year old is unlikely to shy away from the challenge or the responsibility, though, so it’s up to management to make the call on where to from here. 

Lucky for them, they’ve got until the new year to think about it. South Africa won’t play another Test until they take on New Zealand in January. De Villiers will captain and resume responsibility behind the stumps for three T20s before then, and while the two formats are chalk and cheese, one would hope that, should he fail, management will make a responsible call. DM

Photo: South Africa’s AB de Villiers is struck while attempting to hook a delivery from Australia’s Mitchell Johnson at the WACA during the third day’s play of the third cricket test match in Perth December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

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