AB de Villiers is clinging on to a slim hope of making a comeback sooner than expected, in South Africa's first day-night Test against Australia in Adelaide. Even though de Villiers has been ruled out for the entire tour with an elbow injury, the man himself believes he could still be part of the series, albeit only for that final Test.
"I am holding on to that. According to the surgeons and the doctors, there's no chance. They gave me six weeks before rehab starts but I always feel the rehab phase can be sped up a bit," de Villiers told Five AA radio in Adelaide. "Maybe after the six weeks if I do fly over straight away, I will be there for the second Test match, have the opportunity to prepare during that game, not play in it and then be ready for the Adelaide Test which would be a dream come to true to play in a day-night Test match against Australia at the Adelaide Oval."
When de Villiers was initially sidelined on September 27, South Africa team manager Mohammed Moosajee said he would require eight to ten weeks of recovery, which would make him available between November 22 and December 6. As a result, Moosajee said, de Villiers would target the home series against Sri Lanka, that begins with a Boxing Day Test, to make a comeback. De Villiers had surgery on his elbow on October 3. The Adelaide Test starts on November 24, which would put de Villiers' recovery time at just over seven weeks.
The injury, which causes pain to de Villiers when he plays certain shots, was sustained earlier this year and was being treated conservatively with physiotherapy and cortisone. Because de Villiers continued to experience discomfort when batting, he had to undergo surgery, even though the timing was not ideal. "I've had to sort this out," de Villiers explained. "It came at a really bad time. There's one Test series you don't want to miss out on and that's playing Australia in Australia so I am really sad about it, but I had to get it sorted out."
The exact cause of the injury is not isolated but rather due to general overuse and overload that comes with the packed cricketing calendar. De Villiers had played without a break since last October, when South Africa toured India. That was followed by a home series against England, the World T20 in India, the IPL and the CPL. De Villiers admitted that was too much while carrying various niggles.
"In the last couple of seasons I did push it too much. I was driven to go and win the 2015 World Cup, so an injury was never going to keep me off the park. I was always going to just work through it," he said. "After the 2015 World Cup, there was a big dip in my fitness, both physically and mentally. I was a little bit drained. I only realised after the World Cup, I had been pushing it a bit hard. For the last two seasons, playing all three formats with the hectic schedule from the ICC, I didn't manage it as well as I could have and I am paying the price now."
The price began when de Villiers was ruled out of the home Tests against New Zealand in August, which would have been his first in charge since he was appointed permanent Test captain in February. He has also sat out the ODIs against Australia but his absence has not affected South Africa's performances. Under Faf du Plessis, they have won both series and no one is happier than de Villiers.
"They are doing well without me, It's great to see that without guys like myself, Hashim, Morne Morkel, the depth is still there and the talent is coming through nicely," he said. "We are a very inexperienced team, playing the No. 1 team in the world. Yes, Australia are also lacking in the bowling department a little with a few injuries but still to beat the No. 1 team in the world, a few games in a row, speaks volumes of our depth and is great for the country's cricket."
With a smooth transition to another leader and de Villiers' recent history of hinting that he will need to address workload issues, the topic of an early international retirement is likely to come up again. But de Villiers continues to insist that is not on his mind, at least for the next three years while he targets the only unticked box on his cricketing CV. "The biggest dream for me is 2019 World Cup but I will have to manage myself to get there," he said. "I am still in good shape, I am a fit guy and I am not too heavy on my feet, so I can definitely move around maybe even further than 2019, but to me the World Cup dream is the main one. I would love to be around for that 2019 World Cup."