South Africa in Australia, 2012-13 November 15, 2012

AB de Villiers' wicketkeeping questioned


AB de Villiers' batting is being hindered by his wicket-keeping despite his own claims to the contrary, according to former Australian gloveman Ian Healy. While Healy said there is no reason de Villiers cannot become a specialist keeper-batsmen, he will only be convinced of his ability in the dual role once de Villiers has proved himself in a tough situation.

"My jury is out until we see how good he is when the pressure is on," Healy told ESPNcricinfo. "I am going to really have a good look at him and see. But I do think it's going to take some effectiveness out of his batting."

De Villiers has not scored a half-century since taking over the gloves from Mark Boucher at the start of the England tour after which he was side lined for three weeks with a recurrence of a chronic back injury. He has made starts in almost all of his innings, including four scores in the 40s and an important and potentially match-saving 29 not out in over two hours during the second innings at the Gabba.

But it is also obvious that de Villiers has lacked the explosiveness of the past, last seen in his audacious 160 not out against Sri Lanka at Newlands in January. While the scoop over gully still makes an appearance, de Villiers has adopted a more conservative approach and has failed to capitalise on platforms already laid by the top four.

Since de Villiers took over as wicket-keeper, he has also not been called on to make any significant batting contribution under pressure. South Africa used Mark Boucher's forced retirement as an opportunity to lengthen their batting order and with seven frontline batsmen, de Villiers's scores have not stood out.

Healy does not think South Africa should continue with such a long line-up, especially because most of their bowlers are competent with the willow as well. "There is no need to bat at low as South Africa are batting at the moment with [Vernon] Philander being a decent hitter and Steyn down there we well. How many batsmen do you want?" he asked. "You might as well have a specialist wicket-keeper in there who will be utterly responsible for the quality come day four and day five when you've got spinners operating."

Similarly, de Villiers has not had to play in a match where spin has played a major role yet, which Healy thinks will be the true test of his glovework. South Africa fielded a four-pronged pace attack at the Gabba and were hoping to rely on the part-time off spin of JP Duminy for variation before he was injured after the first day.

With team management and de Villiers himself saying he would prefer a spinner in the starting XI, Imran Tahir is likely to make a reappearance in Adelaide. Even if he does not, one of Faf du Plessis or Dean Elgar will play and both are occasional spin bowlers. On a surface that is known to deteriorate on the final two days, De Villiers may face his sternest examination.

"He hasn't got much spin to keep to here [in Brisbane] but if you are keeping on day four or day five with Australia in a tight situation where they need 80 to win and five wickets in hand and a tough stumping chance happens, that's when de Villiers doesn't want to be wicket-keeper, if he is not good enough," Healy said. "But South African management are not saying he is not good enough at the moment so we have to wait and see. He might get lucky here in Brisbane with no spin but he just needs to be careful. His wicket-keeping might cost them something and it might blunt his batting. He doesn't need that and neither does the team."

Duminy's injury may allow South Africa to avoid that problem by replacing him with the specialist wicket-keeper Thami Tsolekile and not another batsman. Tsolekile played three Tests for South Africa in 2004 and was a disappointment but, like Vernon Philander, has been back to the domestic game to work on his trade.

Since joining the Lions at the start of the 2008-9 season, Tsolekile has been the domestic circuit's best gloveman, has played for and captained the South African A and was contracted by CSA in February - an indication that he would be Boucher's successor. Although his first-class batting average is 29.01, he is a determined and capable batsman. His half-century against the touring Australians on a tricky pitch in Potchefstroom last summer and recent 70 in a first-class match against the Dolphins where he was the top-scorer are examples of that.

Alviro Petersen, Tsolekile's captain at the Lions, has no doubt he can make the step up to international cricket. "Four years ago, when I gave him a call to join the Lions, he was working in the office at Western Province. The reason I called him was simple: I knew he was a fighter and I knew if he gets an opportunity he will take it," Petersen said. "He is a wonderful team player and he is ready. South Africa has got a good wicket-keeper in him."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2012, 13:50 GMT

    De Villiers ,as a wicket keeper ,adds more lineaments to the team & doubting his accomplishments is totally despicable. Healy's comments on passing on gloves to Thami Tsolekile is just mind games. Aussies, likely to see , Tsolekile rather than a specialist batsman scoring runs.AB may not be a long term wicket keeper but, as long as, he is in the field ,let him relishing the game.

  • greig on November 17, 2012, 7:09 GMT

    Really dissapointed in what Healy as said. Firstly during the commentary he praised AB saying what a good job he had done in England, etc. Now he comes out and questions his keeping. Its really said when ex-players and cricket pundits are also involved in mind games against the opposition.

  • Peter on November 17, 2012, 6:33 GMT

    @SCC08. Where do you get your numbers. AB hasn't hit a 50 since taking the gloves! LOL, nothing like made up numbers to make an invalid point.

  • Nicholas on November 16, 2012, 21:42 GMT

    Yup - I said it before the match. SA have the depth to hand the gloves over to Tsolekile and barely dent the batting. With Duminy out, I'd much rather see this happen and AB moved up the order with focus on his batting, than have the likes of Elgar brought in...

  • Philip on November 16, 2012, 7:01 GMT

    You can go right back to the formative days of test cricket to see controversy regarding keepers. Victoria's Jack Blackham was selected for an early role while New South Welshman Billy Murdoch played as a bat. The eventual result? Blackham wrote the manual for modern keeping and Murdoch made the first test double century. So the selectors got it right. Since then, however, there's too much pressure on wickies to average as much as the specialist bats. Sure Gilchrist may have done it, but then it was partly the way he played; giving it a whack so he often wasn't long at the crease. Big, considered innings are not going to come from quality keepers too often, even if they have the technique because their concentration is hampered by the strain of keeping well. Batsmen-first/keepers don't have quite the same problem as they don't do so much, tending towards being planted in the one spot and relying on late reactions rather than anticipation. Half-doing the keeping keeps your mind fresher.

  • geoff on November 16, 2012, 2:59 GMT

    In an age where there is no problem for coaches to swop roles with the arch opposition from one year to the next, I think we should still remember that Ian Healy is an Australian offering advice to an SA team during a series against Australia. Sometimes selection could be based on what the opposition would least like. I think the aussies would be happy to see Tsolekile, rather than a specialist batsmans, come into the team.

  • Tomek on November 16, 2012, 2:40 GMT

    I love the focus on Ian Healy here. This article was written by Firdose Moonda, Healy was about my least favourite cricketer but a fantastic keeper and half decent bat. Gilchrist changed the landscape that had been on it's way for a long time. Sangakarra likewise. But if South Africa, with a currently awesome top 5 and an equally awesome pace battery and a possibly devastating leg spinner, can accommodate a specialist keeper then that keeper could get them a stumping, a run out, a catch that a keeper/batsman would miss. Keepers are involved in so many dismissals. They change the mentality of batsmen. Australian 1st Class batsman were MUCH less likely to leave the crease when Darren Berry stood up as he never made mistakes, got stumpings from thin air. Even had a down the leg stumping off Damien Fleming. He was a freak with his hands, and although he could barely bat at all his input was devastating.

  • John on November 16, 2012, 0:53 GMT

    @RyanHarrisGreatCricketer - honestly I don't think this is an attempt at mental disintegration, having listened to Healy in the commentary box for years I think it is just that he is very interested in keepers, particularly specialist keepers. Even to the point where I could imagine Slats and Co rolling their eyes. Considering where he is coming from as a very good specialist keeper I think his point is well made this time though. As an aussie I think AB as a specialist batsman is a much more worrying prospect than as a keeper batsman, besides this is the best time for them to try a keeper instead of calling up a new-ish batsman. If they try a batsman now (sorry I can't remember who else is in the squad) they will probably feel aggrieved at only having a couple of games because it is likely AB will drop the gloves when they return to SA.

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2012, 0:27 GMT

    I heard on the TV coverage Healy saying De Villiers is a natural gloveman when he took that half volley down the leg side. Make up your mind Heals! I think SA miss him in the field though to be honest.

  • Alex on November 15, 2012, 23:10 GMT

    I don't think CSA consider De Villiers as a long term keeper, but want him to just get through the England and now Australia tour. Tsolekile will come into the test side against NZ, where he can settle in in home conditions against a weaker team. AB is also the successor to Smith as captain, can't realistically bat at 4-5 (with Kallis gone), keep wicket and captain, Sangakarra giving up the gloves is an example it's too much.

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