Could tortoise Elgar replace hare De Villiers?

De Villiers missed only 42 of the 270 ODIs South Africa played during his career.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

ONE is a dasher, a dazzler, a doer of derring do. The other plods with pithy particularity and purpose. It would take a lot to confuse them, but the latter could be the answer to the former’s removal from South Africa’s equation for the World Cup in England next year.

AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar are about as different as a pair of batsmen could be — which doesn’t mean Elgar isn’t a candidate to step into the void left by the undeniably great De Villiers, who retired from international cricket last week.

At least, that was Ottis Gibson’s take at a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday.

“We will pick guys that we believe can go and perform in those conditions,” Gibson said.

“Dean playing county cricket now puts himself in the picture.

“When you look at his record playing white-ball cricket he is not out of the picture.

“But since I’ve been here we haven’t looked at Dean [for one-day internationals].

“But now, with what’s happened with AB, and you’re looking at experience in English conditions, someone like Dean, I would imagine, will come into the conversation.”

Gibson didn’t allow himself to be painted into a corner on who might replace the finest white-ball batsman world cricket has seen since … nobody.

And the fact that Elgar’s name came up at all was thanks to a reporter’s question.

But it would be foolish of Gibson to have ruled out a player who has reeled off scores of 87, 50 and 91 off the 246 balls he has faced in his last three one-day innings for Surrey.

Elgar batted at No. 3 twice and opened the batting in his other innings, which only adds to the intrigue of what would be nothing like a straight swop in South Africa’s line-up.

As do the facts that Elgar played the last of his six ODIs in October 2015 while De Villiers missed only 42 of the 270 games South Africa have had in the format since he made his debut more than 13 years ago.

That illustrates how integral De Villiers was to his team’s cause. It also tells us, as Gibson said, that there is no replacing him.

What’s needed is a complete revision of South Africa’s batting strategy now that the strongest link in the chain has been lost.

The sparseness of Elgar’s previous involvement in ODIs means minimal tinkering would be required to fit him into the XI.

And, unlike other, also viable candidates for the job — Farhaan Behardien, Reeza Hendricks and Theunis de Bruyn — he has earned his respect, and more, in the game’s toughest role: regularly opening the batting in Test cricket.

Gibson and the selectors have the time they need to plot a path out of the dark place that is a South Africa team abruptly and, it seems, unexpectedly denied De Villiers’ stellar services.

They also have the opportunity to experiment, what with 23 ODIs scheduled before the World Cup.

There’s only one AB de Villiers but there’s also only one Dean Elgar.

That may be enough; not to solve an unsolvable problem but to prevent it from becoming bigger.

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Gibson ‘shocked’, ‘disappointed’ by De Villiers’ retirement

“I’ve retired from cricket, and when you retire your retire. Don’t try and say I might try and play here or there.” – Ottis Gibson

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

OTTIS Gibson tried hard on Monday to find the positive needles in the haystack of negativity that was dumped on cricket when AB de Villiers announced his retirement from the international arena last week — just more than a year before the World Cup in England.

Even so, South Africa’s coach couldn’t avoid using words like “shock”, “disappointing” and “mourning” in his public reaction to De Villiers’ decision, which rocked world cricket on Wednesday.

But Gibson knew there was no point looking back wistfully at what might have been had De Villiers stayed in the mix.

“The announcement came as a shock to me but we had a conversation — he called me the morning before the announcement and told me what he was planning to do,” Gibson told a press conference in Johannesburg.

“So we had a long conversation around, ‘Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’. He reckons that he is.”

That sounds like Gibson tried to talk De Villiers out of it. Did he?

“It seemed to me that he was enjoying his cricket; we saw him in the IPL [Indian Premier League] taking Spider-Man catches.

“That’s why it was a shock to me, and I suppose it was a shock to everybody else as well.

“I did say to him, ‘What about giving away Test cricket and still playing one-day cricket with the World Cup coming up?’.

“He said he’s spoken about it with all the people he needed to speak to, and there’s no point in me trying to get him to change his mind. I don’t think there’s anything I could say that could get him to change his mind.”

Gibson would seem to have been granted the serenity to accept the things he cannot change, the courage to change the things he can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.

“I need to get the team together and move on; sport moves on,” he said.

“Of course it’s disappointing. He’s one of the best players in the world. He could have made a huge difference in the World Cup and he knows that. But he’s chosen to walk away from the game at this time and it is what it is.”

Worries over the standards of domestic cricket, which have in many estimations fallen since Gibson played for Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng in the 1990s, probably mean De Villiers’ replacement will be an already familiar name.

Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn and Dean Elgar — in a one-day context — were all mentioned by Gibson, who was nonetheless keen to make the point that, “I don’t want to start calling names. We will pick guys we believe will go and perform in those conditions.”

What would Gibson make of a reconsideration by De Villiers, who has in the past gone back and forth over issues like whether or not he was available to keep wicket?

“When a player makes a decision like [retiring] it’s hard to go back because somebody will come and fill his place, and if that player is performing how do you deal with that situation?

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it, but it’s a great question.”

Not that Gibson was holding his breath.

“I’ve retired from cricket, and when you retire your retire. Don’t try and say I might try and play here or there.

“It seems to me the announcement leaves a few things hanging; he might still change his mind.

“But I can’t focus on that. I need to focus on the group of players I have to work with.”

There was no ignoring the haystack in the room and Gibson had the good sense to stop looking for needles.

“This clearly puts a spanner in the works of a lot of the planning we’ve been doing,” he said.

“Every cricket team has to, at some point, when a great player moves on, have — what do you want to call it? — a little mourning period. Then another great player comes along.

“That’s not saying we’re not going to miss AB. Of course we are. But it gives an opportunity for someone to come in and stake a claim.

“There’s enough talent in the country, not to fill AB’s awesome shoes, but to have the 10, 12-year career that AB has had.”

De Villiers had diamonds on the soles of his awesome shoes, agreed. Now we’ve all got to get rid of those walking blues.

What AB de Villiers wants for Christmas

“I am a person first and then a cricketer.” – AB de Villiers

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE in Florence

A father, mother and two small boys were gathered at a pizza and pasta joint in Port Elizabeth early on the evening of Christmas Day last year. 

The older kid wore a shower of straight, brown hair and beheld his pizza like a king his kingdom. His brother babbled blissfully.

Mom smiled the happy smile all moms smile when they have made it, almost, through another day with their sanity more or less intact.

Dad looked weary around the eyes and sat a touch hunched. He seemed burdened and older than the 34 he would turn in less than two months. He offered a sans-serif smile.

It was an ordinary scene that plays out around the world every day. Except that the father in this family was AB de Villiers trying to do what even he couldn’t do: be ordinary.

“I am a person first and then a cricketer,” De Villiers said in a 2016 Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations player survey.

That’s as close to heresy as we get in a society in which you’re only as good as your latest social media post, but no less true for that.

De Villiers proved his point on Wednesday by walking away from however many more millions and however many more runs, and all the fame.

“I’ve had my turn and to be honest I’m tired,” he said. “It’s not about earning more somewhere else. It’s about running out of gas and feeling that it’s time to move on.”

His decision was greeted as if a loved one had died when all that had happened was that a great cricketer’s career had been laid to rest.

De Villiers’ genius in the white-ball formats has overshadowed the fact that in Test cricket he was merely excellent.

Of all the 2 912 men who have batted in Tests, only 43 average 50 or more — 1.48% — and just 15 of them have played at least 100 games in the format. That puts De Villiers in the top 0.52% of Test batsmen.  

But greatness doesn’t respect the banality of numbers. You only had to see, once, De Villiers apparently levitate as he awaited a delivery he would put over the third man boundary with an outrageous flick, or splay his knees, one of them on the ground, to deposit a ball over the backward square leg fence, or take an uncatchable catch, to know that he was great in the only sense of the word that should exist.

That he could think of doing these things was arresting. That he could do them should have got him arrested.   

None of which made De Villiers a good captain. He won more games than he lost, but that happened because of the team he led — which of course included his exemplary self — and despite his ham-handed leadership.

Graeme Smith stood tall, alone and unmistakably at the helm of his ship. Faf du Plessis is always two steps ahead of what anyone else is thinking, and wearing a sly smile to prove it.

De Villiers was invariably frazzled and surrounded at every turn by sub-committees of teammates lending him better ideas. Little wonder he was too often in trouble with the overrate police.

The circumstances of a particular loss suffered under his leadership more than three years ago now were a kick in the balls that must still hurt and could easily have hastened Wednesday’s decision. 

For the suits to have the arrogant idiocy to meddle in the selection of the XI for the 2015 World Cup semi-final at Eden Park was a crime against De Villiers and his team that has, shamefully, gone unpunished.  

A tendency to obfuscate and contradict his own admissions on chronic niggles, some more serious than others, exposed De Villiers as someone who said what he thought others wanted to hear.

That made him a fine example of what’s right and wrong with modern sport. Let stars star. Let leaders lead. Let talkers talk. Don’t get those wires crossed, and bugger the media, social and otherwise.

Anyway. All done. All dusted. All over. Bet you can’t wait for Christmas, nê, AB?

Mr 360 by the numbers:

Games played for South Africa: 420

Balls faced: 26 787

Centuries: 47 (9.71% of 484 innings)

Half-centuries: 109 (22.52%)

Ducks: 20 (4.13%)

Balls bowled: 396

Wickets — 9

Catches: 463 (215 as wicketkeeper)

Stumpings: 17

Captaincy: 124 games, 69 wins (55.65%), 49 losses (39.52%), 0 draws, 1 tie, 5 no results

Twitter followers: 6-million

Estimated net worth: R250-million

AB de Villiers’ dream comes true at last

“I actually had chest pains,” some sad soul posted after De Villiers’ retired. Really? You need one of two doctors: to treat a heart-attack, or to sort out your head.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

THE question came most often from Indians, and it was almost always directed at South Africans. Until August 2, 2010, there was no answering it with any seriousness.

“Is there anything AB de Villiers can’t do?”

It took De Villiers himself to provide the answer. On August 2, 2010, he released “Maak Jou Drome Waar [Make Your Dreams Come True]” with singer-songwriter Ampie du Preez.

Henceforth, Indians who asked certain South Africans if there was anything De Villiers couldn’t do were met with a snappy, “Yes — sing.”

Turns out the joke is on us. By retiring from international cricket at 34 with a storming return to the Test arena last summer still shimmering in the memory, De Villiers has indeed made his dreams come true: he has got his life back.

Nothing could be as important to him and his family.

Anyone who doesn’t agree is mean-spirited and selfish, and the fake anguish being expressed by people trying to pass themselves off as proper cricket fans can go to hell.

“I actually had chest pains,” some sad soul posted on social media on Wednesday in response to De Villiers’ announcement.

Really? You need one of two doctors: to treat a heart-attack, or to sort out your head.

There is fault to be found with the way De Villiers told us he was moving on.

An outrageously over-produced video almost as cringeworthy as the weird and not so wonderful footage that accompanied “Maak Jou Drome Waar” was not the way to do it.

Worse, he broke the news on his own app, which is like dumping someone on WhatsApp. Tacky, or what.

For a classy player, that was the equivalent of farting as you try to heave a full toss over cow corner and instead send a bottom edge twixt keeper and slip.

Are the hits, which help monetise apps, really that important?

But on social media, class, if it even exists, is temporary. Especially to people who have almost 6-million followers on Instagram and Twitter — each — and another 3.5-million on Facebook. That’s a lot of monetising.

Even if that wasn’t the case there has to be understanding for players saying what they want to in the way they want to say it. 

Was De Villiers trying to leave on his own terms and without people like reporters getting in the way of what he was trying to express?

Probably. But as much as having your say unabridged is your right, it behoves journalists to examine what you’re saying and critique it as rigorously as anything you might have said in a press conference or an interview.

Not that anyone who is not AB de Villiers knows what it’s like to be him.

We can imagine lives of being paid stupidly large amounts to play a mere game — and take issue with the fact that people who have real jobs, like doctors and teachers, earn exponentially less — and we can dream of flitting from one luxury hotel to another and never knowing what they cost.

We can try to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who seems to spend most of their lives being adored and the rest signing autographs.

We can imagine what it’s like to have stories like this written about us.

But we can’t know what it means not to be able to talk a walk without being recognised, or spend time with your family in public without work getting in the way — some of us have trouble smiling for a single selfie with a loved one over lunch, nevermind one a minute with utter strangers who know our names.

We have no clue how it feels to have so many people watching your every move all the time, to be studied and examined and pontificated about as if you were a work of art imprisoned in a frame and nailed to a wall.

That’s what De Villiers has been all these years, a picture whose prettiness we demanded not be spoiled by him becoming real.

Is there anything Abraham Benjamin de Villiers can do about that? Yes. He did it, albeit poorly, on Wednesday.

Life after AB de Villiers

There are options. None of them is as good as De Villiers. No-one is.

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

SA after AB: feel it, it is here. At least, it will be on July 12, when South Africa play Sri Lanka in the first Test in Galle — their first game since AB de Villiers announced his retirement, with immediate effect, from international cricket on Wednesday.

Truth be told, South Africans couldn’t care less what happens in that series of two matches on the Asian island, nor in the five one-day internationals and sole T20 that will follow.

The three ODIs and three T20s at home against Zimbabwe in October will be a yet smaller blip in the national consciousness, and even the three ODIs and T20 South Africa will play in Australia November won’t count for much.

Neither will the full tours in all three formats against Pakistan and Sri Lanka they will host next summer will tell us how much De Villiers will be missed.

It’s the World Cup, stupid. 

How South Africa will perform in England in June and July is all that matters to the cricketminded South African.

And they have more than a year to wait to find out; time in which younger players like Theunis de Bruyn and Aiden Markram will want to answer the question positively as much as older hands like JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien.

There are, then, options. Thing is, none of them is as good as AB de Villiers. That’s no slight on those players because no-one is anywhere near as good as AB de Villiers.

Rather than try to replace a player who brought an ungovernable whirlwind to the crease with him, South Africa need to reimagine their team and their playing approach.

Pretend, selectors, captains, coaches and fans, that AB de Villiers never existed.

Anything else is a recipe for failure and morbid memories. Anyone who says, “What would AB do?”, should be taken out and shot. 

Now is the time to get the hand-wringing out of the way. As South African Cricketers’ Association chief executive Tony Irish said in a release on Thursday: “AB’s record in international cricket speaks for itself and one just needs to take in the public response to his retirement on social media to understand what he has meant to cricket fans in South Africa and around the world.”

Indeed. But this too shall pass, and soon a way will have to be found, particularly in white-ball cricket, past De Villiers’ decision.

Duminy is, without trying to be cruel, done. So if the plan is to go with experience then the sturdy, dependable Behardien must be the immediate focus.

If the approach is to back newer blood, De Bruyn, who has the talent and the skill but has as yet to show the required initiative, is the man.

And not least because Markram has already earned his opportunity on his own terms.

Thoughts will be given to making Temba Bavuma find his inner Hashim Amla and with that another gear in his game, and there is an argument for Heinrich Klaasen’s spark to be rewarded.

There is time and there are possibilities, none of them certain.

This is, and it’s all that matters: there is no AB de Villiers.

De Villiers goes with neither a bang nor a whimper

The wonder of watching a batsman do the undoable is over. When will fans see De Villiers’ like again? 

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

AND just like that, with neither a bang, a whimper nor a tear, AB de Villiers was gone — retired from all cricket except that played by the Titans.

Some call it quits in emotionally charged rooms filled with their teammates and reporters. Others are carried out of the game forever on stretchers.

De Villiers announced that he was done in a slickly produced video on his own app that blipped into being on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon.

“Hi,” he began, facing the camera, wearing a cap, standing on a field and sounding as if he was about to try and sell a late-night television audience a set of steak knives.

“This is the Tuks Cricket Club at the high performance centre in Pretoria, where 14 seasons ago I arrived as a nervous youngster when I was first called in to the Proteas squad.

“Today, at the same place, I want to let you know that I have retired from all international cricket with immediate effect. After 114 Test matches, 228 one-day internationals and 78 T20 internationals, it is time for others to take over. I’ve had my turn and to be honest I’m tired.

“This is a tough decision. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’d like to retire while still playing decent cricket.

“After the fantastic series wins against India and Australia, now feels the right time to step aside.

“It would not be right for me to pick and choose where and when, and in what format, I play for the Proteas. For me, in green and gold it must be everything or nothing.

“I will always be grateful for my teammates, the coaches and the staff of Cricket South Africa (CSA) for their support for all these years.

“It’s not about earning more somewhere else. It’s about running out of gas and feeling that it’s time to move on. Everything comes to an end.

“Cricket fans around South Africa and around the world, thank you very much for your kindness and generosity and, today, for your understanding.

“I have no plans to play overseas. In fact I hope I can continue to be available for the Titans in domestic cricket, and I will remain the biggest supporter of Faf du Plessis and the Proteas.”

De Villiers’ legion of supporters in South Africa, India and around the world must have felt as if those steak knives were in their backs.

For them the wonder of watching a batsman do the undoable was over. When will they see his like again? 

But for those who have spent a decent chunk of the past 14 seasons hearing De Villiers sometimes clicking through the cliché gears, other times struggling to express himself as well as he wanted to in his second language, and still other times not quite making sense, this was an all too polished a performance — even for someone who has made a stellar career out of delivering polished performances.

How much time passed between De Villiers making up his mind and the highly professional production of the video, which includes cutaway shots and fades and could indeed be used to sell something?

Something, perhaps, like sincerity.

To have “no plans to play overseas” doesn’t mean he has committed himself to turning down new offers from elsewhere that are too good to refuse.

Similarly, “I hope I can continue to be available for the Titans” doesn’t mean he will be available. 

As for, “It would not be right for me to pick and choose where and when, and in what format, I play for the Proteas”, how wasn’t that exactly what De Villiers was doing when he opted out of the 17 Tests South Africa played between August 2016 and October 2017?

De Villiers’ decision will be greeted as the end of South Africa’s hopes of winning next year’s World Cup and the beginning of the end of the team’s time at or near the top.

It might be neither, but it will stagger a game that has seen too many fine players end their careers in too short a time for South African cricket’s own good.

In less than six years Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Kyle Abbott, Morné Morkel and now De Villiers have taken their final bows for the national team.

De Villiers will leave the biggest hole because he had as much audacity as he had talent and skill. The others had the talent and the skill, but no-one had De Villiers’ audacity.

“His records and statistics are a true measure of the skill and brilliance he brought to the crease,” a CSA release said.

“He has a phenomenal number of milestones to his name; the world record for the fastest ODI 50 (16 balls), 100 (31 balls) and 150 (64 balls), the second highest individual Test score for South Africa (278 not out), the highest points (935) by a South African in the Test rankings, and he has claimed the coveted SA Cricketer of the Year award twice (in 2014 and 2015).

“He retires with an incredible Test average of 50.66 and as the fourth-highest run-scorer for South Africa with 8 765 runs. His exploits in the limited overs formats have been extraordinary, and he finishes as the No. 2 ranked player in the world and as the second highest run-scorer behind Jacques Kallis with 9 577 runs at an average of 53.50.”

There was more gushing from CSA president Chris Nenzani: “AB is one of the all-time greats of South African cricket who has thrilled spectators around the world with his sheer brilliance, coupled to his ability to innovate and take modern day batting in all three formats but particularly in the white-ball ones to new levels.”

And from CSA acting chief executive Thabang Moroe: “AB has been a colossus on the world stage for well over a decade and we are indeed grateful that most of this time he has been wearing the colours of our beloved Proteas.”

Bangs, whimpers and tears have and will be heard and seen about De Villiers’ retirement. But none, it seems, from De Villiers.

Ngidi SA’s leading light at IPL

TMG Digital

TELFORD VICE in Florence

YOU know by now that Lungi Ngidi bowled up a storm for Chennai Super Kings against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday.

Ngidi made good use of a pacy Pune pitch to claim 4/10. No-one else took more than two wickets.

What you may not have known is that, going into Wednesday’s eliminator between Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, Ngidi owns the best economy rate in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

His 5.90 makes him the only bowler in the competition conceding than a run-a-ball.

But there’s a catch, and not the kind that earns a wicket: Ngidi has played only six of Chennai’s 15 games.

Bought for his base price of the equivalent of less than R930 000 — or something like pocket change on the IPL scale — he was never going to be a regular member of the attack.

So there was no surprise when Ngidi missed Chennai’s first seven games, at least partly because he returned home after the death of his father.

He played in four of the next six matches, taking five wickets at 7.14 runs an over, and cracked the nod for Sunday’s game because Deepak Chahar had injured a hamstring.

Happily, Ngidi grabbed his chance with both hands.

And when Chahar returned to the fray on Tuesday for Chennai’s playoff match against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Mumbai, the South African shared the new ball with him.

This time Chennai’s matchwinner was another South African: Faf du Plessis’ unbeaten 67 took them home by two wickets with five balls to spare.

Even so, it has been a quiet IPL for Saffers.

AB de Villiers’ 480 runs in 11 innings for eliminated Royal Challengers Bangalore puts him eighth among the runscorers, but the next South African on the list is Quintin de Kock — in 35th place.

Ngidi’s haul of 10 wickets makes him the country’s most successful bowler at the tournament, but he shares 26th spot on the ladder with four others.

Chennai have booked their place in Sunday’s final in Mumbai, which means Ngidi and Du Plessis — and Imran Tahir, who is also on CSK’s books — could get another chance to shine.