South Africa v New Zealand, 1st ODI, Paarl January 18, 2013

Overburdened de Villiers abandons gloves


AB de Villiers has, for the first time, admitted being overburdened by his roles as a batsman, wicket-keeper and part of South Africa's leadership core. His acknowledgment comes after a policy change to the limited-overs squads which has seen the gloves taken away from de Villiers to allow him to focus on captaincy.

"I have always felt a bit rushed trying to captain the side and keep wicket," de Villiers said ahead of the first ODI against New Zealand in Paarl. "I will probably stand at mid-off and be able to communicate with my bowlers a lot better as well as get a better perspective of the game."

De Villiers latest statement contrasts with his assessment of his own handling of the triple task the last time South Africa played limited-overs cricket, at the World Twenty20 in September. De Villiers required three weeks rest after the tournament after he aggravated his chronic back condition during the tour of England and the ICC event.

Despite the recurrence of the injury, de Villiers insisted he was not paying the price for taking on too much. "I don't believe there is too much on my plate; I really enjoy the captaincy and batting and keeping. It's what I am going to do," he said, while even going as far as to say he would continue in all three roles irrespective of the effect it had. "If I miss out on a year of my career, so be it."

Since that tournament, de Villiers has played five Test matches for South Africa and one domestic 50-over match. De Villiers complained of a tired body after turning out for his franchise, the Titans in the one-day cup playoff. He scored a hundred in a losing cause that day but was so worn out from the cumulative effects of that match after a Test series that he to be rested from the three-match T20 series against New Zealand, a request which was granted.

In that time, de Villiers also "changed his mind," according to convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson about 'keeping at Test level. When de Villiers was required to take over from Mark Boucher in and emergency situation in England, he was reluctant to become the permanent wicket-keeper. During the third Test against Australia in Perth in early December, Hudson spoke to de Villiers again and he asked if he could continue in the role. The selection panel and team management agreed.

But de Villiers 'keeping at Test level has widespread implications beginning with his own batting. Crouching behind the stumps for extended periods seemed to hinder de Villiers ability to bat with freedom, which South Africa needs him to do. As yet, that theory has not been completely disproved. The 169 he blazed at the WACA came after he was in the field for three overs more than an ODI. Even against New Zealand, where he scored two half-centuries, periods on the park were minimal thanks to the visitor's short batting time.

It has been enough to convince the powers that be, though and de Villiers will continue as Test wicket-keeper but in order do that, he has had to give up the gloves in shorter formats. Quinton de Kock did the job in the T20s and will do in the ODIs, to allow de Villiers time to develop his leadership style, 18 months after taking over the job.

De Kock's selection is also a means to ensure de Villiers' back can be rested, although how much it will be questionable. Gary Kirsten revealed yesterday that de Villiers finds keeping in 50-overs "more intense," than in a Test. Previously de Villiers went on record saying he found it harder on his body to be in the outfield - where he will now prowl - than to keep wicket.

After the three ODIs, it may be clearer which discipline takes greater toll on de Villiers because his back can be compared to the way it felt after the World T20. Should de Villiers first guess be correct and he comes out worse, he may have to consider 'keeping again which will require another rethink of South Africa's limited-overs policy. Should he cope well with fielding again, it could open up another option for South Africa at Test level, the specialist wicket-keeper, should they require it.

As a result, the debate over South Africa's wicket-keeping options is far from closed. Life after Boucher was always going to be uncertain because of the poor planning that preceded it. Even as Boucher's form dipped, no clear attempts were made to identify or groom a successor.

At that time, de Villiers himself distanced himself from wicket-keeping permanently as he confirmed his career goal was simply to become the best batsman in the world. Recently, he has spoken of his desire to improve his wicket-keeping, to captain the side as best he can and to contribute with the bat.

To change one's mind or expand one's goals is only natural, for the administrators to accommodate that if it works with their team plans is also understandable but it all points to an obvious question that must be asked soon: when does too much room for individual flexibility cause too much disruption to the team's needs?

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harmon on January 20, 2013, 23:05 GMT

    @Ryan Stephen & LillianThomson:

    What happened brothers? You ppl not building on your +5/-5 argument? It looked Ryan was saying it was statistically proven after he'd checked his stats.

    And Lillian, what about you? You not saying anything more about your hypothesis? Are you now willing to concede that your hypothesis has little factual basis? Or do you still insist?

  • Harmon on January 19, 2013, 22:07 GMT

    @Ryan Stephen:

    Is it really statistically proven? Did you even check the facts?

    Since 1 Jan 1990:

    Asia (Ind/Pak/SL/BD/UAE) --- 311 Mat 298772 Runs @ Avg of 31.88 --- Eng/Aus/SA/NZ ---------------- 475 Mat 460588 Runs@ Avg of 31.08

    I leave it to you and LillianThomson to see if this proves what your hypothesis. (I am sure you will latch on to the diff of 0.8 :-p)

    Take Care.

  • Harmon on January 19, 2013, 21:43 GMT

    On a diff note, this issue of ABD can't be compared to MSD but the reason is that keeping was a natural thing for MS while ABD was a batsman who could keep wickets at times and thus wasn't all that used to to play as a regular keeper for a long time. When anyone is made to do a job that doesn't come naturally to them or to which they are not used to, they will feel a bit rushed or stretched too much. I guess for SA ABD the batsman is much more imp than ABD the keeper-batsman. ABD will have an even more imp role to play in the future now that Kallis will retire in the next 12-18 months or so....

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2013, 15:34 GMT

    SwamiCricketanand: "If Llilian Thomson had his/her way, then SA would be the unchallenged and numero Uno side of all times!!!!"

    Lillian Thomson is not South African. What's happening here is all too typical. People bring arguments against SA players that are so blatantly biased that we have non-South Africans jumping to our defence, only for everyone to mock them for being die-hard SA fans, which in fact they are not.

  • Dummy4 on January 19, 2013, 15:26 GMT

    @Harmony111 "Your argument is completely subjective. Why should batting on an Asian wicket be deemed easier than on Eng/SA/Aus/NZ wickets?"

    It is statistically proven.

  • des on January 19, 2013, 12:30 GMT

    @mahjut: Yes, disappointing batting peformance - actually a bit surprised to see them scrape over 200! Still, a good start with 2 quick wickets and better to watch the bowlers and fielders under pressure than a non-contest like the first T20.

  • mahjut on January 19, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    Surly, i have never taken part in a debate with a written piece of work ... I debate with other posters, like yourself (and enjoy doing so) ...which, of course, you have done, very logically, since backing up - with sound arguments - your initially unsupported assertion. ---> be interesting to see if the bowlers can defend this total (certainly hope so!) ...

  • Harmon on January 19, 2013, 11:05 GMT


    Your argument is completely subjective. Why should batting on an Asian wicket be deemed easier than on Eng/SA/Aus/NZ wickets? Batting on a wicket where the ball keeps low and spins a lot is by no means easier than batting on a wicket where the ball bounces and swings/seams a lot. Both are places where the batsmen need to show skill & application.

    Secondly, suppose Asian wickets indeed are easier (for the sake of argument). Why this +5/-5 then? why not +2/-2? What's the basis of choosing this figure of 5?

    3rdly, by your own yardstick, the Fast bowlers of Eng/SA/Aus/NZ should get their records adjusted too, right?

    4thly, by your own yardstick, the spinners of Ind/Pak/SL should get even more + points cos they have to bowl and take wickets in these DAMN EASY batting conditions.

    5thly, Barring Amla & to some extent Kallis & now Cook - why do most Eng/Aus/SA/NZ batsmen have poor/avg records in EASY Asia?

    For eg Ponting avgs 38 in Asia yet SRT avgs 50+ in Eng/Aus/SA/NZ.

  • David on January 19, 2013, 10:20 GMT

    @Harmony111 You can't just say that "50" is a cut-off point for gauging batting quality by averages.

    Firstly, you need to add around 5 runs to Test averages of players from England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand due to the more challenging conditions and subtract 5 from other countries - so a South African average of 49 is comparable to an Indian average of 59.

    Secondly, you need to ensure that 3rd and 4th innings performances are good enough. de Villiers averages 40 in the 3rd innings and 42 in the 4th innings, whereas Tendulkar averages 47 in the 3rd innings but only 37 in the 4th innings. That illustrates what we really know - Tendulkar was much the more talented batsman but de Villiers has always had a better temperament in a crisis.

  • mahjut on January 19, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    Surly, yes, i have heard someone in a debate say their opinion was logical but never to open the debate by effectively asserting the there is no debate and the logic is already monopolised (well, not seriously anyway) ... the recognition of the two opposing proposals must be tabled first [your 'logic' did not recognise any other the time you presented it]. I think you reach too many conclusion from what you "believe" I feel which is why you assume when i talk about shifting truths it translates as AB lying. but the truths [facts, if you prefer] have shifted, he was not able to keep at test level due to chronic back pain, then was able, he is quoted as saying "I don't believe there is too much on my plate; I really enjoy the captaincy and batting and keeping. It's what I am going to do,", that changed too ... that you believe him is worth something, not all posters agree which is hardly surprising - unanimity is not easy to achieve. He seems an honest if fickle fellow

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