South Africa in Australia 2012-13

Keeping not behind back issues - AB de Villiers

Firdose Moonda in Sydney

November 1, 2012

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AB de Villiers took the gloves after Mark Boucher's injury, Somerset v South Africans, Tour Match, Taunton, 1st day, July 9, 2012
AB de Villiers: "They [the media] have made a massive thing out of it. My back's not fractured and there are no missing bones. I've needed rest" © Getty Images
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AB de Villiers has denied that keeping wicket affects his back, despite the prognosis that the wear and tear that sidelined him for three weeks was a result of an increased workload. De Villiers wants to continue as the Test gloveman despite his chronic condition and appears conflicted by what its seriousness may mean for his future in a dual role.

The tour of England - in which De Villiers kept in all three Tests, five ODIs and three T20s - and the World T20, where South Africa played five matches, meant he had three months of continuous action. De Villiers' back took such a beating that Mohammed Moosajee, the team manager, confirmed that if the trip to Sri Lanka had not been a major tournament, de Villiers would have been sent home earlier. Moosajee, who is also a medical doctor, said the cause of the injury was "overuse".

The national management asked for de Villiers to undergo a 21-day rehabilitation programme with no game time. He completed it last Friday and did not play any Champions League T20 matches, which led to him being declared fit for the match against Australia A that starts on Friday. De Villiers is expected to bat at No. 5 and take the gloves in all three Tests on the tour, and is confident his back will hold up.

"They [the media] have made a massive thing out of it. My back's not fractured and there are no missing bones. I've needed rest," de Villiers said defiantly in Sydney, before conceding that the condition has lingered for a while and remains a worry.

"It has been an issue for a long time now. It's something I've got to look after and manage really well for the next few years. I don't believe the keeping has played a massive part in that. I've felt a similar kind of thing with my back when I'm fielding. It's not really the wicketkeeping. I've worked even harder in the field. It has been a few years coming now that this back [problem] has been developing into something serious. That's why I needed a few weeks at home. I've got enough issues with my back to have needed that rest."

If Moosajee's diagnosis is accurate, de Villiers may be right. The spike in back pain he has experienced is not solely because he is keeping wicket. It is a combination of glovework and batting, which is different to a combination of fielding and batting, that has caused the problem. For as long as he continues to do both, the risk of the recurrence exists.

One of the solutions could be for de Villiers to move down the order, although he is reluctant to accept that. "I don't believe keeping affects my batting," he said. The numbers tell a different story. In six Tests in which de Villiers has performed both roles he averages 30.33, compared to 50.42 in the 71 he has not. He has also never scored a century while playing as designated wicketkeeper and has one half-century in the role, which he scored in 2004. On the recent England tour, de Villiers managed a top score of 47.

But he has an explanation for that. "In England, I put in the hard yards and I gave myself the opportunity to go big," he said. "I just never pushed on from the 40s. I got out a few good deliveries, especially at Lord's where Steven Finn bowled me a really good ball. It's almost as if I'm one knock away from people going, 'Oh, my word - wicketkeeping is doing him so much good'."

If that doesn't happen, though, de Villiers insists that he does not mind if his batting is adversely affected for the benefit of the unit as a whole. "I've always been big a believer in playing in a successful team. It's much bigger than the individual. I believe it makes us a stronger side," he said. "It gives us a better chance to perform really well if I'm taking the gloves; it opens up a spot. JP [Duminy] did really well with Vernon [Philander] there at seven and eight. It looked like the batting line-up would never end."

Part of de Villiers' selflessness stems from being part of a team culture that he describes as being better than it ever was. "To have that feeling is something I've dreamed of all my life. I felt it in my last year at school when I really felt part of a team," he said, talking about the schoolboy dream team he was part of at Afrikaans Seuns Hoërskool that included Faf du Plessis, Neil Wagner and Heino Kuhn. That team did not lose a match in two seasons and de Villiers believes South Africa is on the same path, especially as they have not lost a Test away from home since February 2010. "We enjoy each others' company and each others' successes."

Some of those achievements were only possible because of the longer batting line-up, as was evident at Lord's in August. For that to continue, de Villiers has to manage his back carefully and has worked out how to do that. "The key is to look after my core very well. I've got to make sure my abs and core muscles are really strong to look after my back."

Moosajee said that in the longer term "decisions would have to be made", implying that de Villiers may not be a permanent replacement for Mark Boucher, no matter how dedicated he is to the task. Should that be the case, de Villiers is confident replacement gloveman Thami Tsolekile, who is part of the squad in Australia, will have his back.

"Absolutely, yes, he will. He has proven that over quite a few years in South Africa. He has been a very handy cricketer. He has won games for his provincial sides," he said. "It's nice to have him, with his experience, in the team. There's no doubt when he gets the opportunity he'll do well. I think he's ready."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (November 3, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

I see two choices (for tests): 1. AB keeps the gloves, but bats further down the order (like Prior for England); 2. Tsolekile takes the gloves at the expense of e.g. Faf, Botha, Rudolph, and AB focuses more on batting and can bat top-order. Anything else is risky...

Posted by   on (November 3, 2012, 1:38 GMT)

Find it dificult to understand that England are in India have 3 warm up games and then 4 tests whereas South Africa ( NO 1 in tests) have 1 warm up game and then play 3 tests

Posted by Rampant_Aussie on (November 2, 2012, 9:16 GMT)

Agreed Mad_Hamish. De Villiers is a world class batsman. Keeping has clearly affected his batting so far and back injuries can be a serious concern and put players out of action for a considerable period. Lets not kid ourselves, De Villiers didn't keep that well in England (he was okay...). I think he can keep in ODIs and T20s if he must, where keepers can act as more of a backstop. But Test match cricket is a different matter. I say drop Rudolph, he's had many chances. He has not established himself as a regular and he's on the wrong side of 30. Retain Duminy at 6 and pick Tsolekile or Kuhn. RSA will have a better, more balanced side.

Posted by anver777 on (November 2, 2012, 5:58 GMT)

As in the article AB's batting had really slumped while keeping, he need to change that & seriously manage himself with his workload to bat long innings for SA !!!!

Posted by satish619chandar on (November 2, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

Given he had to take extra risk in tests against big teams, why not SA try and reduce his burden in shorter formats? ODI and T20 can always give options for De kock or a Kuhn or even a Morne van wyk as specialist keeper and ABD can have captain + Batting as his only role. It will compensate for his extra role in tests a bit. You wouldn't want your one of your best batsman to break down going for extra cushion.

Posted by Mad_Hamish on (November 2, 2012, 3:06 GMT)

The big issues are - whether keeping affects his batting form and by how much and - whether it affects his back - whether the long term wear and tear of keeping will shorten his career.

There are very few people where keeping hasn't affected their batting, check Alec Stewart for an example. The question is whether you're better off getting your 7th best batsman into the team so that deVilliers does the keeper's job or whether you're better off getting a specialist keeper so that deVilliers is at his best with the bat. You're also losing one of the best fieldsmen around.

Constantly crouching and getting up from the keeper's stance seems to cause problems for the backs and legs (and very few keepers avoid serious problems with the hands as well) so you're definitely taking a risk there.

Frankly it looks like a big risk for relatively little gain, Rudolph and Duminey are both mid-30s averaging batsmen and not likely to improve on that batting at #7. So a keeper might be 5-7 less

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (November 1, 2012, 19:40 GMT)

@Ziggy Marley u nailed it right there mate, yes stats don't lie but you have to interprete them with a fare scense of reasoning and many com.'s here seem to be mislead by the way this issue is being twisted by the articles. If ABD feels he can handle it, let it be. He is proving he can in the ODIs, lets give him the chance in tests aswell.

Posted by ZiggyMarley on (November 1, 2012, 15:54 GMT)

Just checked.

AB de Villiers averages 78 with a strike rate of 99 in ODIs when he has also been the wicket-keeper.

Posted by Beertjie on (November 1, 2012, 15:53 GMT)

@Gordo85, if Oz bats for those 2 days in Adelaide, AB really won't play at the WACA and all the pundits here will be saying I told you so, especially @ Clan_McLachlan. One way to address the issue now is not only to play 6 batters + Tsolekile, but to play Peterson instead of Tahir at the Gabba. He can play the Harris holding role there. Tahir could play in the second test in place of Peterson, but his kind of imaginative thinking (horses for courses) will be called 'chopping and changing' by the conservative SA management, as would picking Faf in place of Rudolph. Well, we'll wait and see how things pan out.

Posted by ZiggyMarley on (November 1, 2012, 15:52 GMT)

The stats are very misleading. Look at AB's stats in ODIs as a keeper. Of the 6 test matches he has played as a keeper, three were in his debut season as a 20-year old rookie. Another one was the match where he didn't bat because Amla and Kallis scored 500 unbeaten runs between them and as he mentioned, the other two test matches he has got starts but not kicked on. Lies, damned lies and statistics.

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