South Africa news March 7, 2014

De Villiers tipped to succeed Smith


AB de Villiers is the most likely candidate to succeed Graeme Smith as South Africa's Test captain, but if he is to assume the additional responsibility it might mean a change in team structure. Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock called de Villiers the "natural choice," but warned he would have to stop wicketkeeping to accept the leadership.

De Villiers is presently the Test team's vice-captain, wicketkeeper and No. 5 batsman, and Boucher does not think he can take on any more. "I don't think it's viable for him to captain, bat in the top five and keep wicket," Boucher said. "The ask is a lot. Maybe he can do it for a small period of time while South Africa look for another keeper but in the longer term, he'll need to give up one."

There is recent evidence to back that argument, dating back to de Villiers' appointment as ODI captain when Smith stepped down after the 2011 World Cup. That was de Villiers' first leadership role, having not led at school or domestic level before, and his inexperience showed.

With a strategy of a flexible batting line-up - which has since been scrapped - South Africa were a disorganised ODI unit for the first few months under de Villiers. He struggled to keep up with the pace of captaincy, quite literally, and was suspended for two matches against New Zealand in January 2013 for a slow over rate.

That was de Villiers' fourth series in charge, by which point he had already relinquished the Twenty20 captaincy to Faf du Plessis, and was meant to hone his skills in the job. The wicketkeeping gloves were taken away from him as well and at the time de Villiers said he felt he had more time to "communicate with my bowlers and get the field right."

De Villiers briefly resumed keeping, while Quinton de Kock was given time at his franchise to mature into a domestic player, but currently does not keep wicket in either T20s or ODIs. During that time he also developed into a sharper captain, particularly after the 2013 Champions Trophy, and led South Africa to an away series win over Pakistan, followed by a defeat to them at home, and a home victory over India.

It was regarded as no coincidence that the improvement in his tactics came after he was unburdened from a treble-role. If the same logic is applied to the Test team, it will likely be de Kock who will take over as wicketkeeper. De Kock was recently contracted by CSA and made his Test debut in Port Elizabeth. He's only 21 and has played only 21 first-class games but Pollock was not worried by his inexperience.

"If they decide they want to go the de Kock route, they've got six Tests for him to settle into his role," he said. Before the 2015 World Cup, South Africa will play two Tests against Sri Lanka in July, one against Zimbabwe and three at home against West Indies. The first of those assignments is the most challenging, given that Sri Lanka was the last place South Africa lost in, so de Villiers may be retained as gloveman for that.

If South Africa want an alternative for Test captain, they won't have to look much further than du Plessis. He captains T20 team, has led from school level, enjoys being in charge and has shown he has the ability. His has only played 14 Tests, but already boasts a batting average over 50 and the temperament to bat for days.

Beyond de Villiers and du Plessis, South Africa don't have many other candidates. Hashim Amla was vice-captain of the limited-overs sides but gave that up last February and said his decision was based on not wanting to take on the main role if needed. Alviro Petersen, who leads the Lions franchise, only has one hand on his spot as an opener and none of the fast bowlers have ever been considered captaincy material.

Makhaya Ntini believes JP Duminy could captain in shorter formats because, "he has been playing and performing for long enough and he deserves it." But Duminy is only settling into a more all-round role and it may prove too much to expect from him.

South Africa's options are limited to giving one of the shorter-format captains the Test job and Pollock thinks it could bring a breath of fresh air. "A lot of the tactics over the last 10 years have mainly been from Graeme's head," he said. "Even when he stepped down in shorter formats, the bulk of the strategies come from his thinking. It will be nice for someone to come with a new approach."

The Smith-era and all that came with it - the presence of Boucher and Kallis as seniors and the consistency brought by having the longest-serving captain - is now over. South Africa remain the top-ranked Test team but these major changes may make it tough for them to stay there for as long as they would like.

They have a 12-point cushion over their nearest rivals, Australia, and Kallis hoped it was enough to tide them over until the new crop settle in. "There's quite a bit of a gap between us and the rest so hopefully we can just hang in there for a little while," he said. "We've got one or two series coming up where we can hold our own with a young side but we will also have to be patient for a while. There won't be as much experience in the side but it's by no means a weak side. The guys coming in are just as talented, they might just need some time but they'll be there and there abouts."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on March 11, 2014, 18:21 GMT

    @ Shongololo wrote "For all your bluster, ZCF, de Kock had a better batting average v Australia than Alviro. Fact."

    I too pointed out that salient fact, but ZCF has never been known to let the inconvenience of statistics, logic, evidence or even common sense get in the way of his/her strongly held opinions. I admire the man/woman for sticking to his/her guns. Unfortunately, the guns seem pointed at the targets no-one else would fire upon. The targets deserving fire are, of course, protected by his/her force field.

    Interestingly, ZCF raised unholy hell when QdK was given the ODI gloves, but since his back to back to back centuries, there has been blissful silence. Long may it last. Somehow, ZCF fails to grasp the blindingly-obvious-to-everyone-else concept of "if he does that in ODIs, lets give him a run in tests and see if we have a best of Gilchrist & de Villiers hybrid genetically modified cricketer*.

  • ZCF on March 11, 2014, 8:27 GMT

    @Greatest_Game time will tell. Already your arguments for Smith(so bad had to retire), Morkel(still rubbish), Abbott(toothless), QdK(out of his depth) etc proved false. Who's next? Faf at four to me is staring down the barrel. You guys make me laugh. Too biased to see their flaws. Anyway what counts is slowly but surely your favoourites are being shown up at this level. Like it or not Rory, Tsotsobe&Tsolekile will feature on merit sooner rather than later.

    Alviro(c), Amla, AB, Faf, Duminy, Elgar/Bavuma, Tsolekile(wk), Philander, Parnell/Tsotsobe, Steyn, Leie/Phangiso

  • David on March 11, 2014, 3:59 GMT

    @ ZCFOutkast writes "AB should've given up the gloves and batted at 4 when Kallis retired, not Faf."

    If his captain & coach wanted him to stop keeping, he would have - right? If his captain & coach wanted him to go on keeping, same applies. Despite your claims, AB does not run CSA.

    If Faf bats at five YOU will immediately accuse him of "hiding down the order!" You accuse AB of doing so. Did you read that Reuters article - I supplied you the link!

    He also writes "... it's more practical to have Amla open as Elgar&QdK or whoever won't cut it, while it's even more pressing for AB to come in at first drop."

    If Amla WANTED to open, he would. If he does not WANT to open, remember what happebed to Ashwell when he was forced to?

    McLaren before Parnell was stupind. Neither should have been picked. Abbot before Rory is plain common sense. LOOK AT THEIR FIGURES!!!

    Truly, I just can't take you seriously. Nothing you say makes sense. Thami can't bat. End of story, but you go on, & on ...

  • Paul on March 10, 2014, 23:01 GMT

    For all your bluster, ZCF, de Kock had a better batting average v Australia than Alviro. Fact.

  • ZCF on March 10, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    @TommytuckerSaffa if Faf is to be captain then I don't think he should do so while batting at 4. Maybe 5 or 6. With an uncertain opening combination, we can't have him worrying about his own form. Like I said, Amla&AB have to be in the top 3, the Proteas can't afford anythign else. If that's not the case then it would be suicidal for Faf to accept the captaincy. Personally I doubt he will continue to be able to make it in the first XI as a batsman. Bet on it!

    People who question Alviro are funny. If he plays in Sunfoil series he will score centuries&double tons with the frequency that far surpasses anyone. There is no way Elgar&QdK can be better openers. The reality is he will be an opener for the Proteas for quite some time. Has the ability to score quick or consolidate and is naturally confident. Along with Steyn they are the only two remaining leaders in that side. Steyn can't be captain - never a good idea to burden bowlers with that between spells. So ALVIRO IS THE ONLY OPTION.

  • greig on March 10, 2014, 12:08 GMT

    @ZCFOutkast You are a strange one to work out, as I find myself both agreeing and then also disagreeing with what you say.

    I agree with you on SA selectors messing up selection with McLaren in the first test. It was naive for the selectors to think that Mclarens medium pace and batting was going to cause australia any problems. When Parnell came in with his extra pace, there was immediate impact. I also agree with you about Morne Morkel, who for me is purely a free-loader on the back of Steyn & Pielander success. Finally, your points on QdK are true, he came in as a specialist batsman and 'jumped' the queue of others more deserving as specialist batters.

    Disagree with you on Faff - I believe he could be a great captain. He has been captain of teams since childhood while AB has not. I strongly disagree with Alviro being captain as I feel he shouldn't even be in the team with his poor form and inconsistent performances.

  • ZCF on March 10, 2014, 10:57 GMT

    @Geatest_Game AB should've given up the gloves and batted at 4 when Kallis retired, not Faf. What I say makes sense. With Smith retiring just after Kallis it's more practical to have Amla open as Elgar&QdK or whoever won't cut it, while it's even more pressing for AB to come in at first drop. The others will grow better from 4-6. As for QdK keeping the irony is those advocating for that path are what also leads me to think the agenda is not just cricket. Think him being selected but ineffective in the 2nd Test, and the same applying to Abbott ahead of Rory, or McLaren pupping Parnell in the first. Many argued for them but predictably the Aussies hardly felt their presence. I stand by Alviro as captain for the next two seasons until CSA see how the new side pans out. Like it or not AB&Faf will prove to be poor choices and many of you will be calling for a change within 3 series. Anyway whatever happens Morne Morkel must be dropped. No longer justified for this level.

  • Mark on March 10, 2014, 5:28 GMT

    A good player does not necessarily make a good captain. There is more to being a quality captain as just being an outstanding or long serving player. On te flip side though, you do need a captain who is good enough to earn their place in the team. In terms of leadership, I would choose Faf ahead of AB. I still would like to see De Kock open and keep wicket instead of AB as wicky. Smith and Kirsten worked on good structures and if Domingo (who I also don't think is the best) keeps those in place, the team will still work together under an inexperienced captain. I am afraid if Domingo tries to change things too much, SA will not be the team it shoul dhave been.

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2014, 19:54 GMT

    De Villiers is a brilliant cricketer, not including bowlers hes the best in the world currently in my opinion, he can do it all

  • Dru on March 9, 2014, 16:45 GMT

    Somehow I sense SA are going to slip on a banana skin over this issue! Few considerations. Dhoni in modern times and Alex Stweart in the past, are examples that AB can do it all. Sangakara and McCallum are examples of a batsman moves to a new level when playing as a pure batsman. So what are SA looking for? I get the feeling SA are uncertain if AB can handle it all - one sure way is to ask hin or give it to him for a couple of series and reassess. The way I would look at is AB could be an altime great as a batter and that is simply too much to compromise for playing a wicket keeper batsman. I would solve all issues as follows. Take the gloves off AB which means besides playing as a pure batter, there is less impact on his back which may shorten his career. Pick the best option for the keepers job and SA alreday picked De Cock as a batter, so just give him the gloves. Yes he is young but Smith was given the captaincy at 22 and the quicker De Cock is in the team the better.

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