De Villiers accepts permanent Test captaincy
The uncertainty surrounding AB de Villiers' international future has ended after he was appointed South Africa's permanent Test captain following a two-match stand-in stint against England.
Cricket South Africa had been due to debate the decision over the winter period but moved the process forward after a board meeting in Johannesburg on Friday.
South Africa do not play Tests for the next six months which means de Villiers' first assignment will be the two-Test home series against New Zealand in August. Before that, he will lead the ODI side in a five-match series against England which starts on Wednesday, as well as play a part in South Africa's World T20 campaign.
None of that will lessen the workload de Villiers complained about at the start of the England series, when reports of his impending early retirement first emerged. At the time, during the Boxing Day Test, de Villiers confirmed he was looking for ways to lighten his load and CSA duly responded by handing the wicketkeeping duties to Quinton de Kock for the New Year's Test in Cape Town.
By the third match of the series at the Wanderers, however, de Villiers had been appointed stand-in skipper, in place of Hashim Amla, who resigned in the wake of his double-century at Newlands. In his first press conference as captain, de Villiers clarified his concerns about the international schedule.
"For two or three years I've been searching for the right answers, to play a little bit less cricket in one way or another, to keep myself fresh and to keep enjoying the game," he said. "Every now and then in the past few years I've found myself on the pitch not enjoying myself as much as I should be, and that raises concerns within myself. I've been searching for answers and speaking to people and obviously that's leaked a bit."
By the end of the Wanderers match, de Villiers explained he was fully committed to the longest format. "I was never thinking of leaving Test cricket at all. I was just to find a way to rest a little bit throughout the year. Playing on the cricket pitch has never been an issue for me, it's just a matter of keeping myself fresh. It's really tough to stay on top of your game if you play up to 12 months a year. I just have to try and find a balance to keep my fight going and keep that skill level up," he said.
But it was only after the Centurion match - South Africa's first Test win 12 months - that de Villiers hinted at taking on the captaincy in a long-term capacity. "I'm keen to move forward," he said on television before telling the post-match press conference that he had "no decision to make," about his future, because it lay with South Africa.
Three days later, he was confirmed permanent Test captain. "This is an exciting time for South African cricket, and I am honoured to have been asked to captain the Test team into a new era," he said. "I thoroughly enjoyed captaining in the last two Tests against England, and although I still have a lot to learn in this role, it's a new challenge that I'm excited to take on."
De Villiers takes over a team that has lost the No.1 ranking after holding it for the majority of the last three-and-a-half years, and which considers itself in transition. CSA's aggressive approach to transformation has made the biggest waves in that regard, although de Villiers admits he is beginning to see the benefits of those plans.
He described the performances of Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada in the England series as "one of the highlights of my career", and said that they, along with "Dane Piedt, Dean Elgar and others have created the opportunity to build a team that delights and unites our country as never before."
There is little doubt that, in the likes of Rabada and Bavuma, South Africa see the future. Rabada was nationally contracted last year while Bavuma earned his first deal this year. Farhaan Behardien, who plays in South Africa's limited-overs squad, and Rilee Rossouw, who was named in the Test squad to play England and has been part of ODI plans, also got their first deals.
Ryan McLaren and Lonwabo Tsotsobe lost their places on CSA's 18-man contracted squad list while Vernon Philander was upgraded to a two-year contract after being on a one-year deal last year.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent