South Africa in England 2012 July 12, 2012

De Villiers ready for Boucher role


AB de Villiers says he is "looking forward to the challenge" of combining his role as a batsman with succeeding Mark Boucher as South Africa's Test wicketkeeper, if he is handed the gloves as expected.

South Africa will begin their attempt to wrest the No. 1 ranking away from England at The Oval next Thursday in what is set to be an emotional first Test after Boucher's enforced retirement from international cricket due to an eye injury sustained whilst standing up to the stumps in a warm-up game at Somerset.

De Villiers has kept in only three of his 74 Tests but became South Africa's first-choice ODI wicketkeeper in 2010 and is now likely to get the job for the Test series against England as well. He will keep wicket in South Africa's three-day match at Kent, although the specialist Thami Tsolekile has also been added to the squad and a final decision is yet to be made.

The unexpected loss of the world's leading wicketkeeper, with a record 555 Test dismissals to his name, has undoubtedly affected South Africa. Boucher was such a part of the fabric of the team that Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain, had to be reminded of his absence during a practice session at Canterbury. However, de Villiers, who regarded Boucher as a mentor, believes that the team can draw strength from the situation.

"He will be in the back of our minds no matter what," de Villiers said. "In our keeping drills today, Smithy even called me Bouch at one stage, and I was like, 'it's me now.' He will be there in the back of our minds but it's more for inspiration as much as anything else. He'll take us a long way to winning this series. It's not a bad thing, as long as you don't get too emotional about it."

"He's been an idol in South African cricket for many years. He's been the rock, the guy with the guts. He's someone who was there when I started off my career, who looked after me, took me under his wing and helped me a lot in my cricket. I probably wouldn't be here without him - it's a big call but it's true.

"They're huge boots to fill, obviously, if not the best. I'm a little bit undercooked when it comes to Test wicketkeeping but I've had a lot of experience, in IPL, T20, ODIs for my country and my keeping has improved a lot over the last few years. It's something I'm looking forward to, if the gloves come my way, in the Test matches. It's something I'll take with both hands."

It could be quite a challenge, as de Villiers is also a key part of South Africa's batting line-up. Greats of the game such as Alec Stewart and Kumar Sangakkara have struggled to combine wicketkeeping duties with consistent runscoring - both averaging significantly less when taking on those extra duties - but de Villiers was sanguine about having to multitask, even suggesting that he might have an easier time of it than in his usual fielding position at point.

"In my experience, I rest a bit more when I keep, I really do," he said. "The only thing I have to look after is my back - that takes quite a bit of stress when I'm keeping. But you don't run a lot as a wicketkeeper. I'm at point and, during a big partnership, I'm running all over that field and I'm really tired after. If anything I might rest a little bit more. I don't think it will influence my batting, maybe I'll go through a bad patch, maybe I'll do even better."

"The captain and coach will have to sit down and take a proper call. I'm keeping in the three-day game, I'm preparing like I'm going to take the gloves in the first Test match and obviously I'm going to prepare like I'm going to bat at five as well. It's not a massive tweak; it's the way you've got to adapt at this level."

While South Africa may worry about increasing the burden on their No. 5, who is ranked the third best Test batsman in the world, de Villiers' record as a keeper in ODIs is worth noting. In 37 matches he has averaged an astonishing 80.36 - scoring eight of his 13 hundreds - compared to 38.81 when playing solely as a batsman. He also seems to thrive when taking on added responsibility, having assumed the ODI captaincy earlier this year while continuing to pile on runs.

Although he described Boucher's injury as a "freakish accident," de Villiers will wear a helmet to stand up to stumps. "I always do," he said. He is not about to change after the horrors of the past week.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • theo on July 13, 2012, 12:35 GMT

    SA have always had the fighting spirit, and Bouch was just the embodiment of that character. Believe me, the whole team, none more so than AB also possess this. With Duminy @ 7, SA will have 4 specialists bowlers, + Kallis's seam + Duminy's offspin... BOTH have been called "golden arms" i.e. The habit of breaking big partnerships or taking crucial unexpected wickets.... I can only hope... :) So, I dont think a 5th specialist bowler is necessary.

  • surendra on July 13, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    It's a very option for SA. its really great to see a senior playerr like him ready to do the job that most Wicket keepers left. AB wants to be an allrounder and create a place for allrounder in the Team. AB we love your decision, you are capable keeper and future Captain. we wish to watch you behind the stumps in all formats.

  • Dave on July 13, 2012, 9:50 GMT

    Siddhartha_S and AbrahamBenjamin. I think you should look a bit closer at Alec Stewart's record before questioning his status. In my book 8463 test runs in a very poor side and all made against attacks containing McGrath, Warne, Donald, Pollock, Wasim, Waqar, Ambrose and Walsh gives a man a fairly compelling case to be regarded as a great of the game. especially as he moved up and down the order and kept wicket. To put it in context, Stewart only scored 77 test runs less than Viv Richards and I don't see anyone claiming Viv isn't a great of the game!

  • Satish on July 13, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    @Siddhartha_S: Ha ha.. May be, Stewart was standing somewhere within the press conference area and AB could have just caught napping and named him.. BTW, Stewart was a decent ODI bat for England.. He might have been a good English keeper but certainly not a legend when it comes to world cricket.. If he is, then we can name even Saba Karim a legend!

  • Rayner on July 13, 2012, 9:39 GMT

    appreciating that his ave has improved while keeping in ODIs but it could be different from spending half a day focussing if he's kept keeping for 100+ overs by cook, trott etc. then a few early wickets fall and he's in to bat without too much rest. many have struggled but fair play if he does well... he'll become one of, if not the most valuable test cricketers in the game.

  • Siddharth on July 13, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    Wasn't expecting to laugh as much as I did when reading this article, but "Greats of the game such as Alec Stewart..." LMAO!!

  • Aswin on July 13, 2012, 8:20 GMT

    I hope before handing the gloves to AB, south africa remember that he is the best batsman in the history of south african cricket and one of the best ever

  • yogi on July 13, 2012, 8:10 GMT

    all the best AB.We will miss Boucher, that's for sure, yet, life has to move on. Get well soon Mark. wishes from a RCB fan.

  • Dummy4 on July 13, 2012, 8:04 GMT

    De villiars will rock as a test keeper for sure. He has the enthusiasasm, the technique and the mind set based on strength.

  • John on July 13, 2012, 7:58 GMT

    There are differing views about AB keeping wicket and how it will affect the side. His stats showed that he improved his batting in ODIs after he started with the gloves. Obviously in tests it could be different. I'm not sure if he has kept wicket in tests before , but if not , saying he won't be able to combine the roles is pure supposition. One things for sure , If AB can combine the 2 roles successfully it makes Engs job that much harder. If he can't and SA lose the series then that will obviously be the only reason why acc to many on here.

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