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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Players/Officials: AB de Villiers
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of Australia
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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 Hoƫrskool 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.

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (November 1, 2012, 15:36 GMT)

I was always a Boucher critict and felt that ABD should take the gloves ahead of him to make the SA batting order the strongest in test cricket, just like it is currently. Before someone starts rediculing what Iam saying... just be patient and give ABD time, I asure you he will develop into a fantastic player in the same manner as he has done in limited overs cricket in the IPL and for SA. And for those calling for the inclusion of de Kock, yes to a certain extent I agree with you, if a kid is good enough than he is old enough...but i feel he must play more domestic cricket ( and maybe some limited overs cricket for SA) before he is chucked into the side (he must be managed in the same manner as Kholi was for India and SA shouldnt jump the gun like the Indians did with Raina and Sharma who played too much of that T20 stuff and have so far flattered in the purest form of the game)

Posted by stormy16 on (November 1, 2012, 14:26 GMT)

I hear AB and admire his committment to the team but this is a real batting talent that is being wasted down the order and with other duties. It is still possible that AB will be like a Gilly but Gilly was a wicky from day one so his body was ready for the test - not sure if AB is. If he is not would be a real shame to lose AB the batter.

Posted by Witty_Cricketer on (November 1, 2012, 14:10 GMT)

I am sorry I dont agree with AB, he says it is for larger good of the team, cadswallop, he just wants some insurance it seems, he is probably the best batsman in the world across all three formats. He should just concentrate on his batting and try to score as many as he can, that way he brings more value to the team. By the way I also believe he is the best fielder in the world so it not like South Africa will lose a lot.

Posted by   on (November 1, 2012, 13:22 GMT)

Team for the Gabba: Smith Peterson amla kallis de villiers duminy thami philander steyn morkel tahir. I would bring in de kock graduly as he still needs to fine tune his game at first class level and spend time as a keeper as he do not keep in the first class games when thami is playing. As a wicket keeper thami is one of the best. His batting are not as good but he still gets some runs.

Posted by   on (November 1, 2012, 13:15 GMT)

We needed AB to take the gloves years ago. But he chose not to, to ensure that his buddy Boucher stayed in the team. Now all of a sudden he wants to play the martyr.

Posted by   on (November 1, 2012, 12:36 GMT)

Tsolekile is ok. Sadly for him, though, for the majority of his career someone better was around. Now he's probably past his best and these younger guys like de Kock and Kuhn should probably be ahead of him in the pecking order.

Adding Tsolekile unsettles the batting balance of the team and, against AUS, we don't need that. Wait for a NZ to come along and bring in de Kock.

Posted by   on (November 1, 2012, 12:23 GMT)

I think AB's reasoning is flawed. Apparently his back is an issue with the extra workload. His best asset is as a bat. 48+ ave. should not be sacrificed for keeping when there are also competent keepers. Coupled with the fact he does it in all three formats. The next time his back gives up lets hope common sense prevail.

Posted by   on (November 1, 2012, 11:56 GMT)

de villiers should play as a pure batsman.that way he can use his abilities better.this XI should be playing in the gabba: 1.Smith 2.Rudolph 3.Amla 4.Kallis 5.de Villiers 6.Duminy 7.Tsolekile 8.Philander 9.Steyn 10.M Morkel 11.Tahir

Posted by Gordo85 on (November 1, 2012, 11:43 GMT)

I think I agree with you Clan

Posted by paps123 on (November 1, 2012, 11:27 GMT)

NZ's McCullum can learn from De villiers.NZ being a weaker team yet Mccullum doesn't keep in tests although this would make the NZ team stronger, while Devilliers inspite of having the option to say no to keeping, yet he wants to do the job as it enhances the team combination. That's what you want from a top player and no wonder SA are at the top in Test cricket while NZ are at the bottom. All the very best ABD.

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (November 1, 2012, 10:49 GMT)

Just dont understand selectors and management. AB kept wicket for 3 tests, 5 ODIs and 3 T20 in England. Why cant someone like Kuhn or De Kock keep wicket for SA for ODIs and T20???? Its not like we dont have the talent.

Keeping wicket definetly has an affect on his batting, the stats prove that.

Posted by Gordo85 on (November 1, 2012, 10:32 GMT)

Pardon me if I don't believe you. This is what they all say even when it looks like it makes him more injury prone. I think for the first Test a real option would be to drop Tahir and replace him with Tsolekile and that would add depth to the batting depth. I mean who else could you leave out? To me though Tsolekile should not even be in the squad for this reason. He might prove me wrong but still South Africa are trying to protect a 32 year old from Test Cricket it just doesn't make any scense at all. I am going to the first two days of the second Test and if de Villers has to go off the field or gets injured I will be very upset.

Posted by ballonbat on (November 1, 2012, 10:20 GMT)

A short-sighted and conservative decision that shows little faith in an incredibly strong batting lineup. Do you really need to bat to 7 when you have Smith, Alviro, Amla, Kallis AB and Duminy? Plus Philander and Steyn. I don't think so. Bring in Tsolekile or a stronger batsman-keeper, even if on the surface it weakens the lineup. Would you rather have a century and a double in the series from AB or a string of sub-50s? It really makes no sense. In fact one less specialist batsman, a dedicated keeper and AB as specialist batsman is far greater than AB as keeper and batsman. Let alone the risk of further injury. A breakdown mid-match leaves the Proteas with no keeper on the field.

Posted by Clan_McLachlan on (November 1, 2012, 9:57 GMT)

Hard to take the gloves away if the player wants them. But I fear that we'll be ending this Test series with Tsolekile keeping and AB out injured.

Posted by satish619chandar on (November 1, 2012, 9:40 GMT)

Yes it is a increased workload for the main aggressor in the SA middle order and it is obvious it is impacting his batting abilities a bit. But for the teams cause, he had to do it atleast for one more series. England was the platform to get into the top 1 but still, to sustain, they need to win. We have seen England do well to get to the top but fall dramatically from there and now in India to regain their touch a bit. SA is a far better team and wish they win against Australia and sustain their momentum.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (November 1, 2012, 9:34 GMT)

Quinton de Kock should come into the side as a keeper, thus leaving de Villiers as a batsman.

Posted by arvind.Kejriwal.AAP_A_Better_INDIA_ on (November 1, 2012, 9:18 GMT)

AB, Why put extra load on your body and mind when you have someone like de Kock in your nation ? That lad is ready to playing International Cricket. Also, an ideal replacement for Boucher.

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