Cricket: Not as easy as ABdV

By Ant Sims 28 January 2013

South Africa’s coach, Gary Kirsten, has admitted the Proteas are a bit stumped on what to do with AB de Villiers in the short format. It’s not an entirely bad problem to have, though. By ANT SIMS.

Much has been said about the situation South Africa finds itself in with AB de Villiers. Since Mark Boucher was forced to retire through injury, De Villiers taking over the gloves has been a massive talking point: whether his keeping affects his batting, whether his keeping is good enough, whether he even should be keeping and whether it shouldn’t rather be Thami Tsolekile behind the stumps in the Test sides.

These are all valid points, and they’ve spurred on some heated debates.

To add fuel to the already raging fire, Quinton de Kock was named wicketkeeper for the T20 and one-day international series against New Zealand. De Villiers took a break during the T20s and Faf du Plessis took over the captaincy duties.

That De Kock would keep in the ODIs was widely suspected by the time the T20 and Test squads had been announced, especially when Tsolekile was omitted from the Test contingent. It became increasingly clear that De Villiers would be the long-term option in Tests and that the South African management team would have to find a solution to manage his workload, especially considering his cranky back issues.

As a result, De Villiers was given a break in the T20s, but it would be business as usual in the one-day series, save for one thing: De Villiers would spend the series focusing on his captaincy, just not from behind the stumps.

Things didn’t go quite as planned for the Proteas. De Villiers was suspended after being found guilty of a slow over rate in the first ODI and had to watch the rest of the action from the sidelines.  South Africa lost the series, but won the final match off the last ball.

Since De Villiers hardly had time solely to focus on his captaincy prowess, the Proteas are now in a pickle. There are just five ODIs left before the Champions Trophy in England later this year, and that leaves them with precious little time to figure out whether to stick with De Villiers behind the stumps or opt for De Kock as a longer-term option.  While South African coach Gary Kirsten admitted that the situation with De Villiers was something of an experiment, he did also say he was already pretty sure which 15 players would be taken over to England.

Where does that leave De Villiers, though?

“In terms of our situation with AB, it’s more exploratory. We are going through a phase of exploring and understanding his keeping. We haven’t closed the door on whether he will become our one-day keeper,” said Kirsten.

Kirsten also insisted that the decision wasn’t a choice De Villiers had made, but rather a team process, as the Proteas continued to search for balance.

“The decision not to keep in this one-day series was a very specific decision which wasn’t his own,” Kirsten said.

“He is not making his own decisions. There is a process we go through in the team. Individuals don’t just stand up and make their own calls. We felt that it might be a good idea for this series specifically that AB had an opportunity to focus on his captaincy. He is a young captain and there is a lot to do on the field.”

De Kock has been a much-talked-about prospect, and Kirsten sees the upside to De Villiers being relieved of the gloves in that it’s a chance for South Africa to mine potential talent.

“The one nice thing about AB not keeping is that it has given us the opportunity to explore another young talent in Quinton de Kock. He has done a good job behind the stumps and has shown real potential with the bat. There’s been a lot of talk about him and it’s nice that he has been given an opportunity at a higher level.

De Kock’s keeping has been impressive in the one-day series, but his greatest failing has been his inability to craft an innings. He’s managed good starts in all three ODIs, but always threw it away.  De Kock’s readiness to keep at international level has been much debated, and while it’s difficult to judge a player on three performances, it does look like the 20-year-old still lacks some of the nuanced disciplines only learnt from playing loads of domestic cricket.

This leaves the Proteas with a slight conundrum, but it’s not an entirely bad problem to have.  The luxury of talent and depth and allowing De Villiers to keep in the Test team means the side is, as Kirsten calls it, “almost foolproof”.  Balancing the shorter format teams, however, is far trickier.

Lucky for them, the World Cup is still two years away – and in one-day cricket, that’s all that really matters, right? DM

Photo: Pakistan’s Nasir Jamshed (L) is stumped by South Africa’s AB de Villiers during the ICC World Twenty20 Super 8 cricket match at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo September 28, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown


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