TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IF a certain pair of wicketkeeping gloves stashed at the very bottom of a certain SA player’s kitbag could talk, they might say, “What the hell?”
They would have a point, seeing as they belong to AB de Villiers – who was on Thursday named as the designated wicketkeeper in SA’s squad to play the first two of four tests against England this summer.
“It’s difficult to take on the gloves, especially keeping in mind that I haven’t kept for six or seven months now,” De Villiers said in July 2014 during SA’s series in Sri Lanka.
Those gloves might want to rename themselves deja and vu, considering the last time De Villiers was behind the stumps in a test was against West Indies at Newlands in January. SA have played six tests since, five of them with Quinton de Kock keeping wicket.
De Villiers has been just as far away from that part of the action in one-day internationals, in which his most recent keeping assignment was against the Windies in East London on January 21. That’s 22 ODIs ago.
At least De Villiers had the gloves in the two T20s SA played in India in October. But the 37.2 overs he spent in gloves and pads in those games add up to little more than a session of test cricket. That’s if they can be compared at all to the role a specialist stumper plays in the longest format.
However, what’s a dodgy back – often the explanation for De Villiers relinquishing the tools of the gloveman’s trade – when the balance of the team is at stake?
“When we became the world No. 1 team we had a specialist batsman at No. 7,” selection convenor Linda Zondi reminded on Thursday.
Indeed, and De Villiers doubling up his duties creates the space for SA to put their batting line-up on steroids again. It wasn’t in India, where they crashed to a 3-0 defeat.
“We’re delighted that AB has agreed to take the gloves again,” Zondi said. “He is a real team man and it’s great for him to commit like this.”
What if his back balks?
“He might come to us after the first test and say his back is giving him trouble again, and then we will have to re-assess,” Zondi said.
Dane Vilas has been dropped from the squad that went to India – even though he scored four more runs (in two more innings) than Stiaan van Zyl, who has been retained to open the batting despite confidence as crumbled as the infamous Nagpur pitch.
“It’s important for us to show commitment and to back a player,” Zondi said about Van Zyl’s selection. “He didn’t do as well as hoped in India, but it’s important that we give him a proper opportunity. If he doesn’t do well again then we’ll have to rethink.”
SA’s leading opening batsman in franchise first-class cricket last season, Stephen Cook, will get first crack at the English when he plays for SA A in the three-day tour match in Potchefstroom starting on Tuesday. Vilas will captain that team, which includes De Kock.
Despite the ongoing injury epidemic among SA’s fast bowlers there has been minimal tinkering with the pace attack.
Kyle Abbott, an emergency replacement for Vernon Philander in India, has kept his place while Marchant de Lange – who came in as cover for Dale Steyn – has been left out.
Steyn’s groin strain should be resolved before the first test at Kingsmead on December 26, but Philander, who has torn ankle ligaments, is unlikely to be fit before the fourth test.
Test: Hashim Amla (captain), Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl.
SA A: Stephen Cook, Reeza Hendricks, Rilee Rossouw, Quinton de Kock, Omphile Ramela, Khaya Zondo, Dane Vilas (captain), Wayne Parnell, Keshav Maharaj, Chris Morris, Marchant de Lange.