TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
AB de Villiers’ answer on Monday when he was asked if he was considering retiring amounted to 132 words. “No,” was not among them.
“There are a lot of rumours flying around, I hear,” De Villiers said in a television interview before the start of the third day’s play in the first test between SA and England at Kingsmead.
“For the last two to three years the only talk I’ve been doing is to keep myself fresh and to have a bit of rest here and there.
“It’s always been the most important thing for me to enjoy my cricket. It’s just important to look at the schedule moving forward. That’s the talk in the camp, and for me maybe not to play all kind of cricket.
“If I play all the IPL (Indian Premier League) games, the whole season, I do get a bit tired towards the end of the season.
“That’s the only thing that I’ve been talking about in the last while – to keep myself fresh and to keep enjoying the game. I love representing my country and nothing has changed.”
De Villiers has more than 106-million reasons to keep playing. That’s how much, in rand, his US$7-million sponsorship deal with a kit manufacturer is worth.
The company will be keen to get their money’s worth of De Villiers raising their branded bats to acknowledge applause for his achievements in as many formats – and on as many television screens – as possible.
Losing De Villiers would be a shuddering blow to a test team in the throes of transition. Since he made his debut against England at St George’s Park in December 2004, no South African has played more than his 103 tests, had more than his 170 innings and scored more than his 7913 runs.
The same is true of De Villiers in a one-day sense and in two-thirds of that equation at Twenty20 level, in which JP Duminy alone has scored more runs for SA than he has.
A story in Rapport at the weekend claimed De Villiers was mulling over his future as a test player and that he could hang up his whites as soon as the end of the England series next month.
Even considering Monday’s interview was conducted under the friendly fire of Cricket SA’s (CSA) broadcast rightsholders – and was thus less a credible media moment than an intervention by vested interests – De Villiers’ unclear answer was intriguing.
The key words were “ … for me maybe not to play all kind of cricket” – a strong suggestion that theories of his retirement in at least one format are far more credible than “rumours”.
Significantly, De Villiers chose to put playing in the IPL at the top of his list. That should tell cricket’s small seven, which includes CSA, something they won’t want to hear: pay your players more and treat them better or they will run away and join the T20 circus.
CSA should also understand that expecting De Villiers to explain clumsy board stunts like forcing the selection of injured, out of form players in a game as important as the World Cup semi-final will come back to bite them.
News of De Villiers thinking about calling it quits follows selection convenor Linda Zondi saying, less than three weeks ago, that he was “delighted that AB has agreed to take the (wicketkeeping) gloves again” for the first two tests against England.
Before the Kingsmead match he last did the job in a test seven games ago, and he has not been behind the stumps in SA’s last 22 one-day internationals. Clearly, he is a reluctant gloveman.
The Rapport article lumped Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander into the same boat as De Villiers, but there has been little reaction to the two fast bowlers possibly bowing out.
Times Media understands that Steyn is close to the end, but not because of his declining body.
“He’s angry,” a source said. “He’s a complex guy so it’s difficult to say why, but he is on his way out.”
Steyn’s agent, Dave Rundle, said the fast bowler was “not retiring yet”. Asked if he was considering quitting, Rundle said, “Not at the moment.”
Sources close to Philander say he is set on trying to play in at least 50 tests. Currently, he has 32 caps.
Both Steyn and Philander have proved injury prone recently, but SA have other quicks where they came from – even of their quality.
However, De Villiers is the lynchpin of SA’s batting. If he goes, plenty will go with him.