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