TELFORD VICE in London
YOU’RE not a cricketminded South African if you’re not worried about AB de Villiers.
On Saturday, against Sri Lanka at The Oval in London, South Africa’s captain began his Champions Trophy campaign with a crisp drive off Nuwan Pradeep for a single.
He took another run to the next delivery he faced, from Seekkuge Prasanna, the leg spinner, with a deft dance to leg and a bunt wide of long-on.
Then followed an expansive drive that was meant to arch over cover but squirted off the edge to third man instead.
No matter: two more runs.
And four runs from three balls was a bullish start.
But it was all the scorer would write for De Villiers.
He went on the pull to Prasanna’s next delivery, ripped through the stroke too early, and sent the ball looping into cover’s hands.
Has De Villiers the darling dazzler ever played an uglier stroke in a South Africa shirt? No.
Not even his clanger in the match against Pakistan at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Wednesday — a flap at a wide delivery from slow left-armer Imad Wasim, leading to a catch at point — could match it.
But Wednesday’s woe marked the first time in his 212 one-day innings that De Villiers had been dismissed first ball.
The look he wore as he stalked off the field was of disappointment and bother, and matched the mood he has brought to his press conferences at this tournament.
For that, he deserves some slack.
Too many lazy reporters reaching too many times for the big book of cliches to ask the same old, tired questions because they want the same old, tired answers to write the same old, tired stories they have been writing and rewriting for years would irritate anyone.
But De Villiers’ gloom must go deeper than that.
He had a poor Indian Premier League (IPL), scoring 216 runs in nine innings and with only one half-century.
Who cares about the non-event that is the IPL when you’re playing for the national team in a major tournament?
De Villiers, that’s who.
He pulled out of South Africa’s test series against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh but had no issues with committing himself to Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Fair enough: De Villiers earns exponentially more in a few weeks in India than he does in several years of playing for South Africa.
But his failure to launch in this year’s IPL will thus weigh more heavily on him than it would on other players.
Hence, perhaps, his performance — and his state of mind — in the Champions Trophy.
On top of that, South Africans are wondering out loud whether he should relinquish the captaincy.
Another over-rate problem in the ODI series against England last month and what would seem to be a disregard of the forecast for rain in Birmingham on Wednesday only adds to their argument.
“If I had known [Pakistan’s innings] would be only be 27 overs I would have attacked a lot more on the field,” De Villiers said in an on-field television interview.
Rain had been forecast for Birmingham from 8pm on Wednesday.
It stopped play at 7.42pm.
How could De Villiers not have known?
Now he has acquired a hamstring injury into the bargain, and that with his team facing a likely must-win game against India at The Oval on Sunday.
Even so, you will struggle to find a blip of worry about De Villiers in South Africa’s dressingroom.
At least, on the record.
Was, for instance, Russell Domingo losing sleep over the skipper?
“No, not at all,” Domingo said.
“He’s a quality player.
“Everybody gets a first-baller, it’s just taken him 200 games.
“I have no concerns about AB de Villiers.
“I’m expecting him to put in a big performance on Sunday.
“He’s that type of player; that when the team needs him he’ll turn up.
“I’m sure about that.”
David Miller, too, was sure De Villiers would deliver: “He’s the best player in the world so it’s nice when he does perform 95% of the time.
“But I haven’t seen him go out for nought too many times in his career: he’s human.
“I don’t think it’s really a huge problem at all.
“AB didn’t come off but he’s definitely due on Sunday.”
Another vote of confidence came from Morne Morkel: “Us as players or team-mates, we need to stand up as well and take responsibility.
“It’s not all on AB’s shoulders.
“That’s just the truth of it.
“AB has got all the energy and he is still hungry to play.”
That’s three cricketminded South Africans.
There are a lot more where they come from, and we’re not so sure.