De Villiers' inspirational qualities are key for South Africa
AB de Villiers' ability to inspire will be the most important aspect of his leadership as he takes over South Africa's Test team, according to his former coach Ray Jennings and team-mates, Paul Harris and Jacques Rudolph. The trio believe de Villiers was the right choice to succeed Hashim Amla and to turn the team's fortunes around.
Jennings thought so highly of de Villiers that he wanted him to captain the IPL team he was in charge of, Royal Challengers Bangalore, ahead of Virat Kohli.
"AB is all things to all people," he told ESPNcricinfo. "When you watch the way he presents himself as a captain, you fall in love with him. There are four reasons that he is the right man for the job. One is that he wants it. Two is that it brings the best out of him. Three is that he leads from the front and lastly, he is an unbelievable human being."
De Villiers made clear both his desire to lead South Africa when Graeme Smith retired in March 2014 and his disappointment when he was overlooked in favour of Amla three months later. When Amla stepped down at the conclusion of the Newlands Test and de Villiers was asked to fill in for the next two matches, he said it was the, "fulfilment of a lifelong dream," and those close to him are convinced this enthusiasm will translate into success.
"He will be aggressive on the field, probably more aggressive than Hashim was," Harris said, while Rudolph, who is in the UAE, told Sport 360 . "He's the type of guy who will rally the guys together."
All that suggests South Africa were struggling for direction under Amla, something even the opposition noticed. Chris Woakes has indicated that England felt Amla was not captaining in the traditional sense and that he thought de Villiers was calling some of the shots.
"Even when I was on the field in Durban you could feel that Amla was not leading the side as much as a normal captain would, such as Cooky does for us. It felt like AB was having an input anyway," Woakes said at an event organised by England team sponsor Waitrose.
As vice-captain and captain of the ODI side, de Villiers would have been expected to contribute to the think-tank. But what Rudolph described as Amla's "introverted," nature meant de Villiers was doing more than he might have anticipated. Faf du Plessis, who leads the T20 side, was also often involved in the on-field decision-making along with senior bowlers like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, all of which appeared to undermine Amla's authority.
However, Jennings does not quite see it that way. He encourages that kind of consultative captaincy to continue. "The sign of a good captain is that he has three or four people that he talks to. You need that. You can't be one of those guys who thinks it's my team and I will do it my way and AB is not like that," Jennings said. "AB is a listener and he is smart enough to be moulded into the kind of leader the team needs."
Harris expects de Villiers' style to be somewhat similar to Smith's, if only because de Villiers was captained by Smith for more than a decade. "When you play under someone for such a long time, it's only natural that you will be influenced by that person. But I also think AB will put his own spin on things," Harris said. "And then it will be up to him about how long he wants to continue playing and whether he wants to do it full time."
At the start of the England series, amid rumours that de Villiers was considering early retirement, the man himself confirmed he needed to manage his workload and that he was pondering which formats he still wanted to play. Now that he is standing in as Test captain and also leading the ODI side, the demands on de Villiers have increased but Jennings hopes that will prolong de Villiers' career instead of shorten it.
"When he first started the ODI captaincy he was a little insecure and we've seen how he has just grown into the role. He wants the challenge and he will put energy into the side," he said. "There are two matches in the series and two matches to win and under AB, South Africa could do it. He will bring the best out of the side."
If de Villiers does, it will only enhance his chances of being given the job permanently. South Africa's selectors will use the break between February and August, during which the team will not play any Tests, to decide who to make full-time Test captain. De Villiers has already been described as the "front-runner," for the job by coach Russell Domingo.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent