Smoke and mirrors obscure truth

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg

AB de Villiers says he is happy to step into the breach created by Hashim Amla’s shock resignation as SA’s test captain on Wednesday. But is he? Amla, meanwhile, has contradicted himself on the process of making his decision.

SA supporters would be forgiven for thinking all is not as it seems with the national team, and that in the middle of their toughest home series, against England, since they became the No. 1 ranked team almost four years ago.

When Amla was appointed in 2014, De Villiers made plain his disappointment that he hadn’t landed the job.

“Everyone has dreams and ambitions and hopes they will become reality, but I accept the situation and will not let it come between me and Hashim,” De Villiers said at the time.

Now he will lead SA in the last two matches of the England series, which resumes at the Wanderers on Thursday with the visitors leading 1-0.

“The captaincy has obviously come at short notice and is the realisation of a lifelong dream,” De Villiers was quoted as saying on Thursday.

This, mind, from someone who did not issue a denial when he was asked during the first test against England at Kingsmead whether he was considering retirement.

Instead, De Villiers spoke about “me maybe not to play all kind of cricket” and said “I do get a bit tired towards the end of the season”.

That the suits took him seriously became apparent when Quinton de Kock was named as wicketkeeper for Newlands.

So, does De Villiers want the added responsibility of captaining SA’s test team? Or is giving him the captaincy an incentive for him not to hang up his whites?

De Villiers has grown into the one-day captaincy having initially looked out of his depth and struggled with basic issues like maintaining an acceptable over-rate.

Having led for the first time at any level and in any format in a one-day international against Sri Lanka in January 2012 – the 224th game of his international career – he now has 100 captaincies to his credit, including tour matches. His teams have won 57 and lost 37 of those games.

However, De Villiers has never captained a team in any of his 130 first-class matches.

It has helped both him and Amla that T20 captain Faf du Plessis – a more natural captain who has been leading teams since he was a junior – has been a fixture in SA’s teams in all three formats.

Given more consistent test batting form, Du Plessis would be the best fit for the test captaincy than anyone in the squad.

For all that, the transition from Amla to De Villiers promises to be smooth – at least on the surface.

“As long as someone is going in the right direction, we all will go with him,” Amla, speaking for his teammates, said on Wednesday.

But some of what Amla said does not add up. First he said, “The decision (to resign) was not made over the last couple of days; the decision was made at least two weeks ago, certainly after giving it a lot of thought”.

Then, having been asked why he had not quit before the England series – which started 11 days before the announcement of his resignation – he said, “I said that I didn’t make my mind up two weeks ago. I said I’d been thinking about it two weeks ago; that’s what I said.”

But that is not what he said originally. Just as clearly, there is a discrepancy between De Villiers making noises about managing his workload and then taking on additional duties.

These are strange days indeed in SA cricket. What’s smoke, what’s mirrors, and what’s the truth?

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