AB de Villiers' behind-the-scenes leadership skills are good enough to merit him continuing as ODI captain despite mounting calls for him to step aside. That was national head coach Russell Domingo's endorsement of de Villiers, which added to a growing chorus from inside the team camp in support of the ODI captain following South Africa's first-round exit from the Champions Trophy.
"He has done a fantastic job as captain during this campaign. He leads from the front. I know there has been a lot of criticism about his leadership but a lot of it takes place behind closed doors, so what people see on the field, they will create their impressions from that. But the team and management all think he has done a wonderful job behind closed doors, in the preparation and lead-up to games," Domingo said. "There's a lot more that goes on than just making a bowling change. People can question his tactics, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. There is no right and wrong way in cricket. He has got to go with what he feels are the best decisions on the field and he has got to commit to that and that's what he does."
De Villiers was appointed captain of the ODI and T20I sides in 2011, when Domingo began his work with the South African side. At the time, Domingo was Gary Kirsten's assistant and two years later, he took over the main job only for de Villiers to hand the T20 reins to Faf du Plessis and set his sights on Test captaincy. Throughout that time, de Villiers was still said to be learning the leadership and slow over-rates, coupled with occasionally odd tactics, were proof of that. Domingo was among those who were patient with de Villiers' schooling.
When Graeme Smith stood down in March 2014, Hashim Amla was preferred over de Villiers but less than two years in, Amla did not want to do the job anymore. De Villiers captained two matches as interim skipper before being confirmed the permanent Test captain but never fulfilled the role after injury and then a Test hiatus kept him out of the whites.
De Villiers' absence from the longest format has now stretched to 18 months and could extend to as much as two years. He has opted out of Tests until the home series against India - dates have yet to be confirmed but it could start as late as January 2018 - to manage his workload ahead of the 2019 World Cup in England.
De Villiers' selective availability for South Africa - while still playing in tournaments such as the IPL - has not sat well with everyone, including former national batsman and current Cobras' coach Ashwell Prince, who, in the aftermath of the Champions Trophy exit, tweeted: "Perhaps it's time that @OfficialCSA dictates to players when they may have the honor of representing this country instead of other way round."
Asked whether de Villiers' decision has affected the team, Domingo denied that it did. He said: "A lot of players have given up a certain format to focus on another one and that's their choice. By no means can we force players to play every single format. You've obviously got to play them according to what they're contributing in the particular formats and that's what has happened. If he wants to just play one-dayers and T20s then that's a decision he has got to live with and a decision he has got to make. You can't force players to play every format if they are not committed."
Domingo went even further in his defence of de Villiers, pointing out that although de Villiers is not available for Tests, he has not missed any fifty-over cricket since recovering from elbow surgery early this year. After being unable to play against Australia at home last October, de Villiers returned against Sri Lanka, went to New Zealand and has now played in England, where he is also set to feature in three T20s ahead of the Tests. He is expected to play all of South Africa's one-day series ahead of the World Cup.
"He hasn't sat out any one-day series where he hasn't been injured. Whenever he has been fit, he has played one-day series. He's sitting out Test cricket at the moment. His [lack of] Test cricket, in my opinion, would not be affecting his one-day cricket that much," Domingo said. "So I can't see the last time he missed a one-day series out of chance - it's either been having a baby, or getting injured, and those are the main reasons. I wouldn't say he has been picking and choosing one-day series."