De Villiers suspended for rest of NZ series
South Africa will be without their ODI captain, AB de Villiers, for the rest of the series against New Zealand. De Villiers was suspended for two matches after a slow over rate in the first one-dayer in Paarl while the entire South Africa team were fined 100% of their match fees. Faf du Plessis will lead the side in de Villiers' absence and Dolphins batsman David Miller has been called up as a replacement batsman.
The match referee, David Boon, judged that South Africa were six overs short of their target. According to the ICC's Code of Conduct, a captain receives two suspension points for a serious over-rate offence (more than two overs short). Players are fined 10% of match fees for the first two overs that go over time and for every additional over the side fails to bowl, the players are fined a further 20%. Two suspension points is the equivalent of a Test match or two ODIs.
De Villiers pleaded guilty to the transgression. "We accept that the over rate was slow and we know that anything above two overs is regarded as a serious offence," Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa's team manager, told ESPNCricinfo.
Moosajee cited various reasons for the extra time South Africa needed but did not name the power failure at the ground as one of them. An electrical outage caused the scoreboard, amongst other things, to go down during New Zealand's innings but de Villiers said the umpires did a "good job" of keeping everyone informed on the state of the game. "It was very hot, in the upper thirties throughout the day with no wind in the afternoon," Moosajee said. "AB is also a new captain and getting used to the pace of the game. But we take full responsibility for the slow over rate."
Ironically, team management hoped to use this series to allow de Villiers to become more accustomed to captaincy and so took the wicketkeeping gloves away from him. De Villiers has been in the job for 18 months since July 2011 and has captained South Africa in two five-match ODI series (against Sri Lanka and England), a Twenty20 series against England and the World T20 in Sri Lanka. Still, he felt he needed to develop a better understanding of leadership, which will now have to wait for the limited-overs series against Pakistan in February-March.
De Villiers stood in the covers for most of the first match and felt it gave him a better grip on the game. "I missed the keeping a bit because I really got used to it in the Test matches but it was enjoyable to be out in the field," he said. "I had time to communicate with the bowlers and get the fields right." In the aftermath, it would seem he used up too much time in doing that.
Defending a small target of 208, de Villiers needed to position his fielders carefully and South Africa able to take the match down to the wire. Immediately afterwards, he said he was pleased with the way the bowlers fought back after a sub-standard performance with the bat.
"We were under pressure and we probably should not even have come close," he said. "The bowlers did everything they could. They got nine wickets today, where we should have lost by seven or eight wickets. We didn't get enough runs. Not batting the 50 overs in ODI cricket is obviously a sin. We put the bowlers under a lot of pressure and they responded really well. We are still finding our way and finding that team spirit that we want and we're not far away from winning close games like this."
South Africa's ODI building phase will now take a backseat as they prioritise victory in two must-win matches if they hope to win the series. Already, they are without the rested Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy, who is recovering from injury. With de Villiers also out, the batting line-up lacks experience.
Hashim Amla, the designated vice-captain, asked not to be considered for the captaincy in order to focus on his batting, CSA selection convener, Andrew Hudson, said. Du Plessis lead South Africa to a 2-1 win in the T20 series over New Zealand last month, when de Villiers was resting.
"Losing AB for the remainder of the series is obviously a big blow to us, particularly as he is still growing in the captaincy and needs every opportunity ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy in the middle of the year," Hudson said. "At the same time it is an opportunity for David Miller who has been on the fringes of our 50-overs thinking. He is a superb finisher who had a strike rate of 98 in the domestic competition and also did very well for Yorkshire in last year's England domestic T20 competition."
When de Villiers makes his return, he will be monitored closely. If he is guilty of slow over rates in the next 12 months, he would receive between two and eight suspension points, which would see him missing out on a significant number of ODIs - and with the Champions Trophy looming, South Africa will not want to risk that.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent