TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
AB de Villiers’ tenure as South Africa’s test captain ended before it really began on Monday, when he quit the job for the good of a team who have learnt to win without his leadership and his dazzling batsmanship.
He has also been forced out of South Africa’s test series against Sri Lanka, which starts on December 26, by a lingering elbow problem.
“The interests of the team must always outweigh the interests of any individual, including me,” De Villiers was quoted as saying in a Cricket South (CSA) release.
“AB has always carried himself as a true team player and his decision to step down confirms his attitude to put the team first,” CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat was quoted as saying.
De Villiers took the reins for two tests in the wake of Hashim Amla’s shock resignation in January that came even as South Africa were shambling to defeat in their home series against England.
But De Villiers wasn’t formally appointed until after that rubber, and an elbow injury has prevented him from playing in the test series against New Zealand and Australia.
That means De Villiers has quit without captaining South Africa in a single test since his appointment.
Instead, Faf du Plessis has guided them to nine wins in the 11 tests and one-day internationals they have played in De Villiers’ enforced absence.
Along the way Du Plessis has earned test series wins over New Zealand and Australia and a 5-0 ODI triumph against the Aussies.
Deservedly, then, Du Plessis was swiftly named as De Villiers’ replacement as captain.
De Villiers was adamant that Du Plessis was the man for the job, according to the release: “Following the squad’s outstanding performances in Australia it is clearly in the greater interests of the team that Faf du Plessis should be confirmed as the permanent test captain.
“I have known Faf for almost 20 years, ever since we played in the same school side at Afrikaans Hoer Seunskool, and he will have my unequivocal support if he is asked to continue leading this exciting Proteas test team.”
But there’s a catch. South Africa’s series against Sri Lanka follows a week after Du Plessis’ appeal hearing against his ball-tampering conviction in Australia last month.
Should Du Plessis lose he could be docked a fourth demerit point, which would see him banned for the first test against the Lankans.
Alternatively, Du Plessis – who has protested his innocence fervently – could abandon his appeal and, for 24 months, live with the threat of the suspension that another demerit point would mean.
CSA declined to comment when they were asked on Wednesday, after the Marylebone Cricket Club’s world cricket committee decided against recommending a change to the ball-tampering law that would, in future, remove the illegality from what Du Plessis did, whether he would consider doing just that.
Given Monday’s events it is surely time to consider that option seriously.
South Africa should beat Sri Lanka even if they are denied Du Plessis’ captaincy along with De Villiers’ batting.
But it would be reckless to squander the momentum and solidity the team have built under Du Plessis in the wake of their disappointing performance last season, when they lost five of their eight tests and won only one.
De Villiers will have plenty of time to see how his friend gets on, what with his elbow still an issue despite having been surgically repaired early in October.
“AB’s left elbow is much improved but is still regaining the last few degrees of straightening,” the release quoted South African team manager Mohammed Moosajee, who is also the team’s doctor, as saying.
“Fitness to play requires a full range of elbow movement and this may take another three to four weeks to achieve.”
De Villiers, who last swung a bat in anger in July in the Caribbean Premier League, will now look to return in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, which starts on January 28.