AB de Villiers has confirmed he wants to reduce his workload across all formats of the game and discussions will take place with Cricket South Africa in May as talk about his future swirled amid a report that he was considering retirement from Test cricket.
De Villiers was responding to a story in the Rapport newspaper which claimed several former team-mates and friends revealed that de Villiers was contemplating quitting because of unhappiness with the South African system.
In a pre-play television interview with Mike Haysman before the third day in Durban, de Villiers explained his concerns about the amount of cricket on his schedule, reaffirmed his commitment to the country but did not categorically deny the newspaper's claims.
"There are a lot of rumours flying around I hear, but for the last two to three years the only talk I've been doing is to keep myself fresh and to have a bit of rest here and there," de Villiers said. "It's always been the most important thing for me to enjoy my cricket. It's just important to look at the schedule moving forward, that's the talk in the camp and for me maybe not to play all kinds of cricket."
De Villiers admitted he is being stretched, especially as his workload is not limited to international cricket. "If I play all the IPL games the whole season, I do get a bit tired towards the end of the season," he said. "That's the only thing that I've been talking about in the last while. To keep myself fresh and to keep enjoying the game. I love representing my country and nothing has changed."
After the day's play Mohammed Moosajee, the South Africa team manager, said that there were ongoing discussions about how to find de Villiers a break and a plan for the next year would be drawn up after the World T20 but for the rest of the season he will continue in all three formats.
"When any international cricketer plays for 10 or more years, there is a concern about what happens when they stop playing," Moosajee said. "AB is in constant contact with Russell [Domingo] and selectors to find opportunities to give him a break. He is still very much committed to playing for his country, it's to look at the schedule for 12 months and see where we can give him time off.
"That discussion will take place when new contracts are announced in May. Until the end of the season, he is committed to playing all forms. It's all about getting the perfect balance. And getting the time to take time off."
Since his debut in 2004, de Villiers played 98 straight Tests before missing the July tour to Bangladesh for the birth of his first child. He also skipped the ODI leg of that series after he was banned for the first match for an over-rate violation and given time off after that. The South African management have been careful with ensuring de Villiers gets enough time off and have left him out of some bilateral series, such as the one to Australia last November, but they have also continually added to his job.
De Villiers was forced to keep wicket in Tests after publicly stating he did not want to when Quinton de Kock rolled his ankle against West Indies last summer. He has since had to take over again after de Kock and his replacement, Dane Vilas, were both dropped. De Villiers has also had to bat a place higher than normal, No.4, because of the fragility of the current line-up and apart from Dean Elgar, has been the only batsmen to find form in the last few months. The burden may simply be getting too heavy.
However, Rapport suggested it was a combination of exhaustion and irritation with internal policies, chiefly the transformation plan which is well-intentioned but threatening to derail some aspects of South African cricket. De Villiers was deeply affected by the selection controversy of the World Cup semi-final, which saw Vernon Philander picked ahead of Kyle Abbott.
Similarly, Graeme Smith was reported to have been unhappy when the selectors insisted on Thami Tsolekile playing in the Test XI. CSA denied that Smith had threatened to quit over the fracas but three months later, Smith cited family reasons for his premature retirement.
No comments have yet been made about the other two players who are also rumoured to be considering calling it quits. Rapport wrote that Dale Steyn, who has suffered several injuries since turning 30, and Philander, who is looking to county cricket, could also bid farewell to international cricket after the England series. Morne Morkel, the bowling partner, to those two was not asked about either of those but laughed off suggestion of de Villiers' possible retirement.