De Villiers likely to give up keeping
AB de Villiers has conceded long-term back issues could force him to give up wicketkeeping in Tests, as he has done in limited-overs cricket. De Villiers was unable to keep in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle because of a hamstring niggle and though he has recovered, he is unlikely to keep in the second Test as well.
"In the last game I had that hammy issue. That's sort of recovered, but my back's always been an issue," de Villiers said. "It's difficult to take on the gloves, especially keeping in mind that I haven't kept for six or seven months now. So, with that injury and a two-day turnaround after the day off yesterday, for me to get into shape with my gloves on would be a little bit unfair with my back."
It means Quinton de Kock, who took eight catches, had one stumping, and scored his maiden Test half-century in Galle, can be assured of his place in the XI at the SSC. With South Africa unlikely to change their batting line-up Stiaan van Zyl, who topped last season's first-class run charts, will have to wait his turn.
All of that remains fluid, though, because de Villiers is unsure of his plans, except to say that if he keeps again he will only do so only if fully fit. "I'd still like to think that I'm a wicketkeeping-batsman and whatever the team wants me to do, I'll do that," he said. "But we'd have to manage it really well so that I don't come into a series having not kept for five or six months. I have to come prepared to a series without any niggles."
South Africa's next Test assignment is a one-off match against Zimbabwe two weeks after the series in Sri Lanka ends, which may mean de Villiers does not have time to return to full wicketkeeping fitness by then. If that is the case, he won't mind occupying a place at slip in Harare. "I do enjoy fielding. It's tough at slip. The ball doesn't come to you very often. So from that perspective I enjoy keeping more - you're in the game the whole time. But it's nice to pull off something special every now and then in the field, to keep the intensity and the energy going."
Despite indications that de Villiers will give up the Test gloves permanently, the move comes too late for him to be considered for captaincy. One of the reasons de Villiers missed out on the leadership role to Hashim Amla was because he was considered overburdened by having to bat in the top five and keep wicket. Adding a third crucial responsibility was seen as a step too far, though de Villiers made himself available for captaincy.
At the time, de Villiers had admitted disappointment but promised to throw his weight behind Amla, and he reiterated that after Amla's first Test in charge. "He made a flawless start. He's always been a natural leader," de Villiers said. "What happened was something in the past. Obviously, I would have liked to do the job but he got it and I'm 100% behind him. He knows that. He had a great start and I think he's going to have an amazing career as a captain. He's got all the credentials, everything that you need to be a great leader. The whole team is right behind him."
The immediate way of showing that will be by helping Amla regain the No.1 Test ranking. To do that, South Africa need a win or a draw in Colombo, which will give them a series victory and the fraction of the point they need to leapfrog Australia.
De Villiers hoped to play his part with the bat. "I didn't have a huge Test match with the bat in the last game, although I played a decent knock in the second innings. I'd love to get in and make an impact for the team and get us into a position where we can win the game. It's never been about my own runs. If I can score as many as possible to get us into a position to win then I'll be a very happy man."
He also wants to do it for another reason. The last time South Africa lost a Test series on the road was in 2006, in Sri Lanka. De Villiers, Amla and Dale Steyn are the only remaining members of that squad. "It was very bad. I don't want to think about it," De Villiers said. "It's been eight years and I remember the change room and some of the memories come to my mind. It was eight years ago and hopefully we'll turn it around. Let's look at it as payback time."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent