Cricket: De Villiers withdraws from T20 squad; Ontong called up

Cricket: De Villiers withdraws from T20 squad; Ontong called up

AB de Villiers has withdrawn from the Proteas T20 squad ahead of their three-match T20 series against New Zealand. The player said that he needed some rest after a long year and in order to recuperate before a two-Test series against the Black Caps coming up in 2013. By ANT SIMS.

AB de Villiers has withdrawn from South Africa’s T20 squad ahead of a three-match series against New Zealand, which starts in Durban on Friday.

De Villiers said that he needed some time off from cricket in order to recover ahead of the upcoming Test series against the Black Caps, following a rather strenuous year which saw him being cast into the role of wicketkeeper for the Test team – all while captaining the limited overs sides with gloves in hand.

“It’s been an exhausting few months and I feel that I need some extra rest before the test series,” De Villiers explained.

 “It’s for this reason that I have put in the request and I’m grateful to the Proteas team management for supporting this decision.”

De Villiers has been replaced by Cape Cobras skipper Justin Ontong, who has previously played ten T20s for the Proteas. Ontong was part of the South African T20 squad who toured to New Zealand earlier in 2012 and the T20 side who played in England. He’s never passed more than 32 in an international T20, but National Convenor of Selectors, Andrew Hudson, believes that Ontong has proved his worth in the recent one-day domestic competition. 

“Justin has been in our limited overs plans for some time now and he has underlined his worth during the recent Momentum One-Day Cup when he excelled as a finisher for the Cape Cobras. As we all know, he is also an outstanding fielder with his direct hits and a more than useful spin bowler,” Hudson said.

While Ontong had a slow start to the tournament, he played a pivotal role with the bat later on, helping the Cobras out of crunch situations on a number of occasions. One of those was most notably the semi-final at Newlands ten days ago. With the home side chasing a paltry 242, the top order stumbled and found themselves in a bit of a pickle at 89-4. The skipper combined with youngster Yaseen Vallie to steady the ship, and Ontong hit an unbeaten 82 off 81 to help his side make it to the final of the competition. 

South Africa’s T20 coach Russell Domingo believes that it’s the experience Ontong brings to the side which will be one of his greatest assets, especially with a large number of youngsters and uncapped players in the squad.

“Ontong is probably one of the more experienced batsmen around. The current side is quite inexperienced on an international level and that’s a role Justin can fulfil in a big way,” Domingo told The Daily Maverick.

The absence of a name like De Villiers might seem huge on paper, but his performances in T20 internationals hasn’t been quite that spectacular. Since 2010, he averages just 21.44 and only managed one 50 in 21 matches. Since taking over the gloves and captaincy, he averages 19.77 in 11 matches. This provides Domingo with the opportunity to trial some youngsters and new players in the format as T20 cricket continues to moves towards a more specialist team. 

“It’s obviously a massive loss to not have AB with us, but it gives us the opportunity to look at some of the youngsters and give them a chance. The Test side is obviously the inconic side now and De Villiers is an integral part of that. It is a big loss because De Villiers is probably one of the best players in the shorter format, but it’s good to try out some other options,” Domingo said.

When the squad for the upcoming tour was announced, Faf du Plessis was named as captain of the side, while youngster Quinton de Kock was named as wicketkeeper. While it was stated that De Villiers would be rotated, there was always the suspicion that De Villiers could either withdraw from the T20 side or retire from the format all together. The batsman has struggled with injuries, and while he stated earlier in the year that keeping in Tests was not something he would consider because of his back, he now says that fielding all day makes him more tired than standing behind the stumps.

The squad for the one-day series has not been announced yet, but it’s likely that De Kock will don the gloves in that format too, as South Africa continues to seek a successor for Mark Boucher in all formats for the long term.

De Villiers, meanwhile, will continue his role as wicketkeeper and batsman for the Test team, and will stay on as captain of the one-day team. However, with De Kock most likely to relieve him from his keeping duties, De Villiers’ workload will be carefully managed to ensure he stays fit and injury-free for the upcoming Test series against New Zealand and Pakistan. DM

Photo by Reuters


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