AB de Villiers has made himself unavailable for selection for the upcoming Test series in New Zealand in March though he has recovered from his elbow injury, but said that he was not retiring from Test cricket.
However, while squashing recent speculation that he was going to give up the longest format, AB de Villiers indicated that his priority was going to be limited-overs cricket in order to play the 2019 World Cup.
"That's a good question. Not yet. I'm not there yet," de Villiers said in Johannesburg on Tuesday, when asked when he would return to the Test side. "The reason being that I just need to settle things in my head. Over the last few years something has come to mind, which is the fact that we haven't won a World Cup yet. And for me to make it to the 2019 World Cup, I can't really be serious in every format.
"So I've made myself unavailable for the New Zealand Test series. I will be there for the ODIs, and I'm definitely not retiring from Test cricket because I have plans to come back at some stage. For me, for now the most important thing is the 2019 World Cup. I want to make sure we get there. I want to make sure we lift that trophy. Obviously there are other factors that play a role like family and time away from home, but the main reason for me is that World Cup and I feel that if I play all formats all the time, then mentally and physically I won't be at my best."
Haroon Lorgat, the CSA chief executive, said de Villiers' comments were not a surprise because he had been involved in discussions with the batsman. "We've given him the latitude of taking time off, of setting himself for the 2019 World Cup. It is very much part of our planning.
"We know it's challenging schedules that all of the players have. What I think is, he is not going to get another opportunity like he currently has with time off. To put it in this fashion - the most he must make of it now [sic], once he gets back on the treadmill it is all the way through to 2019."
Lorgat said he was confident de Villiers would be available for the Test series in England this summer. "What we're doing is taking it a series at a time. I am confident that by the time we get towards looking at England and the Champions Trophy, he'll be fully fit and raring to go. His appetite would have returned because then it would be a fair amount of time he has had. I'm confident England is kind of a series that he would want to be available for."
Earlier on Tuesday, de Villiers told South African radio station 702 that he was "not retiring out of Test cricket." However, he said he would have to manage his workload in order to be fit for the 2019 World Cup.
"My main aim is to get to that 2019 World Cup and I am going to do everything possible to get there. It's important to play the other formats but mentally and physically I need to be in a good space come the 2019 World Cup and that's what I am aiming for. I know its still a long way away and it's all about managing that really well in order for me to get there.
"I am going to have to make certain choices. It's not easy for me. I have always been the go-ahead guy, the team man, who never wants to miss a game for South Africa. But [with] the schedules these days, it's really tough to play all formats, especially at the age of 32, when most cricketers don't go past the age of 35. If you do the math, it takes to me to 2019, 2020 at the most. Hopefully by then I will still be fit and be there to lift the trophy with the boys."
De Villiers said he had recovered from the elbow injury that kept him out of cricket since August last year and hoped to make a comeback in the third T20I against Sri Lanka on January 25.
"I've had this elbow injury for a while now but I am fully fit again and I am playing in that last T20 in Cape Town on the 25th and then in the ODIs," de Villiers said. "I am really excited to get going."
The recent speculation over de Villiers' Test future arose after comments from South Africa's Test captain Faf du Plesiss and coach Russell Domingo indicated uncertainty over de Villiers' return to the side.
De Villiers, 32, has not played a Test since January 2016, when he was the stand-in captain for Hashim Amla. He took over in the middle of a four-Test series against England, which South Africa lost 2-1 in the midst of discussions over his own workload. De Villiers had spent the early part of the series explaining the need to "keep myself fresh" and "maybe not play all kinds of cricket."
At the end of the series, de Villiers was named permanent Test captain and he accepted the job while fully committing to South Africa. However, he was sidelined with an elbow injury after the Caribbean Premier League in July and, at first, opted for a conservative approach to treatment, which involved rest and rehabilitation rather than surgery. That ruled him out of a two-Test series against New Zealand in August. By October, he had still not recovered and was forced to have surgery, which ruled him out of the home ODIs and an away Test series against Australia. Du Plessis was captain in his absence and led South Africa to series wins in both assignments.
De Villiers had still not recovered by December, ahead of the Tests against Sri Lanka at home, and stepped down as Test captain early in the month. Du Plessis was confirmed as his successor and led South Africa to another series victory.