AB de Villiers will not be able to pick and choose the Tests he wishes to play, according to CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat. And once de Villiers does return to the format, Lorgat said, he will not have the luxury of taking time off when he wanted.
On Tuesday, de Villiers said he would not be available for selection for the Test series in New Zealand in March, and that limited-overs cricket was a priority for him in order to play the 2019 World Cup. De Villiers said he was not retiring from Test cricket but was not yet ready to return to the format. Having been out of action since August last year because of an elbow injury, he said he was fit again and going to play the third T20I against Sri Lanka on January 25.
"This is a plan that we had six months ago. It's just a case of when he starts or when he returns," Lorgat said. "Because once he starts, there's no stopping and no time off. When you play, you play continuously. So he's not picking and choosing. These are deliberate discussions that we're having and which will continue.
"ODI cricket is the focus because he's the captain. Test cricket is different. We've got a settled team, we've got the resources to go through. If he was not the captain of the ODI team it might have been different. Same with T20s - we've got enough talent there and he's not leading the side. But with respect to ODIs, he will play every ODI because he's the captain."
Lorgat said de Villiers' decision to not play the Tests in New Zealand was no surprise because of the discussions they had been having in which the 2019 World Cup was a top priority.
Under Faf du Plessis' leadership and in de Villiers' absence, South Africa won their two most recent series - first in Australia and then at home against Sri Lanka. That form will also shape the nature of de Villiers' return.
"I'm most satisfied by the kind of conversations we're having with him," Lorgat said. "He's clear about when he's going to be ready and when he's not ready. His clarity is important because then selectors are aware and we move on. You've seen what's happened in the last few months. We've built the team without AB, and that's a very big positive. The absence of AB has allowed others to step up, and we've developed other players. It's fantastic from my point of view that we have more than 11 that can take the field and be a winning formula."
Lorgat was confident that de Villiers would be ready to play the Tests in the summer in England, but said that his return would be dependent on the form of the players in the squad at the time. "If the selectors and the team feel that they have a winning team going, AB is fully aware that it's the selectors that will determine whether he comes back into the team or not."