It is not that AB de Villiers cannot keep wicket for South Africa, it is just that putting so much extra pressure on the team’s most reliable and prolific scorer seems a bit unnecessary when there is young talent waiting in the wings. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Another day, another selection merry-go-round for the South African Test team. Cricket South Africa have decided to banish both Quinton de Kock and Dane Vilas to the South African first-class competition, and reinstate AB de Villiers behind the stumps for the first two Tests against England.
As former Wisden editor, Rob Houwing pointed out, this move has an eerily familiar sniff to what happened in 2004. Back then, South Africa were also confused about their wicketkeeper conundrum. Mark Boucher had been dropped, Thami Tsolekile and De Villiers ended up replacing both. Then De Villiers was dropped from the position without him even knowing, with Houwing being the one to inform De Villiers during an interview. We can only assume, of course, that this time, De Villiers is well-aware of the fact that extra pressure has been heaped upon him and his fragile back. One is starting to think that De Villiers’ protestation over not wanting to keep wicket is perhaps because he just does not want to make the rest of us feel completely inadequate about our average existence.
If you look at his stats, that certainly seems plausible. In the 23 Tests where De Villiers has kept wicket, he has scored 1981 runs at an average of 53.06 with seven fifties and seven centuries to show for his efforts. Oh, to have even an ounce of talent of such a divinely talented player. Stats, of course, are only as useful as you try and make them. And, for South Africa, the decision to put De Villiers back behind the stumps is a risky one. He does struggle with a back injury, and to put any additional physical strain on the best batsman in your team seems a bit like a “cut your nose and spite your own face” situation. It does, as the selectors mentioned, mean that they can strengthen the batting by slotting Temba Bavuma into the middle order where he is most at home, but it hardly seems like a long-term solution.
Vilas and De Kock will play domestic and A-team matches while South Africa slog it out with England at Kingsmead and Newlands. Curiously, it is Vilas who will take the gloves in the A-team match, not De Kock. This only makes the current conundrum even more intriguing. De Kock was, rightly, dropped during South Africa’s tour of Bangladesh, but has more than repented for his sins since. Vilas on the other hand, looked out of depth with both bat and glove. He is also 30, not exactly old, but not a spring chicken either. Considering Cricket South Africa’s preference to blood younger players and ignore some of the older ones (like Stephen Cook and Andrew Puttick as openers) it seems a curious decision. CSA selection convener, Linda Zondi, explained that De Kock is “part of the future” and his “progress with the A-team will be monitored”, but that obviously will not be progress with the gloves.
Lack of depth in the batting department was officially cited as a reason for the decision to reinstate De Villiers behind the stumps, and the selectors seem to not trust De Kock enough to parachute him back into international cricket. The CSA brains trust better hope that De Villiers doesn’t end up as collateral. Cynics will also ask the uncomfortable question of whether the inclusion of Bavuma is perhaps based on transformation guidelines. If that is the case, there is nothing wrong with it. Bavuma is a talented player and he deserves to play, and considering the mess transformation in sport in this country is in, more efforts should be made to fast-track players with potential.
Keep in mind “transformation guidelines” does not equal “quota players”. Quotas are such a negative term and often implies somebody is not good enough. Transformation guidelines simply mean giving black players the opportunities they deserve as often as they can be afforded them – that is the core of transformation: Access to resources and opportunities.
Cricket South Africa have come under pressure from black South African cricketers recently, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the way some black players have been treated. If South Africa are responding to this by ensuring talented players get an opportunity, that would fantastic. Of course, it could simply be another case of curious selection, like the gloveman merry-go-round of 2004. The experiment is only temporary for now, though, but with their number one ranking potentially under threat, they will hope it doesn’t fail.
The only new face in the team is Rilee Rossouw, while Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer have both been dumped in favour of Dane Piedt. Whether or not South Africa even play a spinner will probably depend on the surface they are confronted with in both Cape Town and Durban. Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyll will continue at the top of the order and only Dale Steyn’s fitness (or lack thereof) will determine the three-prong pace attack. DM
Photo: England batsman Robert Key in action during the third Test against South Africa at Newlands, Cape Town. England batsman Robert Key (R) drives a delivery watched by South African wicket keeper AB de Villiers on day four of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands, Cape Town January 5, 2005. REUTERS/Howard Burditt.