TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
AB de Villiers’ softening commitment to test cricket hit the game like a bombshell on Tuesday, but that bomb has been ticking for some time.
De Villiers, who turns 33 next month, ruled himself out of the three-test series South Africa will play in New Zealand in March to focus on trying to keep enough in the tank to play in the 2019 World Cup.
But he stopped short of retiring from test cricket.
The first indication that De Villiers was considering his future came on Wednesday, and from no less reliable a source than one of his oldest friends.
“I’m not sure how AB will feel in terms of test cricket so we will have to see,” Faf du Plessis said on the eve of the third test between South Africa and Sri Lanka at the Wanderers.
“We’re excited to have him back in the one-day team. I’m hoping he decides to play (tests) for us.
“He is obviously a world-class batsman and I, as a captain, would love to have him as a leader in our team, and obviously as a batsman. He is a fantastic player.”
“The plan was for him to play in this series and then the one-dayers start, but now we will see what AB’s plans are – whether he wants to play.”
On Saturday, after the Wanderers test, Russell Domingo said: “We need to sit down with him and plan his future.
“AB has got to make that decision – I can’t decide on whether he plays or not.
“When I say that I mean AB has got to make the decision about whether he is available and the selectors have got to make the decision whether he plays.
“He has obviously got to make some decision about his future in cricket.”
The uncertainty was striking. Both could easily have said something bland that did not raise more questions than it answered.
Perhaps they were less guarded because South Africa have not struggled to win despite De Villiers’ absence since June because of an elbow injury.
Without De Villiers South Africa have won six and lost only one of their eight tests and they have a perfect 6-0 record in one-day cricket.
Maybe De Villiers knew as far back as December 12 that his days in whites were numbered – that’s when he resigned the test captaincy.
In fact, as far back as January last year he declined to take opportunities to deny reports that he was considering.
Whatever. Tuesday’s news, while it grabbed its fair share of headlines, did not shock South Africans as much as it would have done had it broken before the start of the national team’s resurrection from a 2015-16 campaign in which they lost five of the eight tests they played.
What a difference a few wins makes.