AB de Villiers is set to play in at least one of South Africa's T20 series before the T20 World Cup, where he is expected to make an international comeback. De Villiers, who retired in May 2018, and long-time friend and current T20 captain Faf du Plessis have been in talks since before Mark Boucher took over as head coach about the possibility of de Villiers playing at the tournament. Now, they only need to sort out some of the finer details of de Villiers' reintroduction to the national side.
"We spoke about it, and I was very keen to have him back. That was even before the new coaching staff was on board," du Plessis said. "Then it was the process of what does the next year look like in terms of T20 cricket -- how many games; where, when, what? And then trying to unfold that in a way that we can get him back. He's keen to come do that I don't know when. I can't give you that answer yet because that decision hasn't been taken. But there would be a series we would like to get him back to play."
South Africa are due to play 11 T20Is before the World Cup (three each against England and Australia at home in February and five against West Indies in August) which leaves plenty of opportunities for de Villiers to play in-between his other commitments. He is currently playing for the Brisbane Heat at the Big Bash, which ends four days before the first T20 against England. De Villiers will also play at the IPL, which does not clash with any South African fixtures.
The advantage of having de Villiers in the team is obvious, but South Africa have turned him down before. When de Villiers made himself available to play in the 2019 fifty-over World Cup on the eve of the squad announcement, South Africa's selection panel decided it was too late to make room for him. News of de Villiers' offer broke after South Africa had already lost their first three matches.They went on to lose two matches to become the first team to be eliminated and recorded their worst-ever World Cup performance. They do not want to make the same mistake at the T20 World Cup, which is also likely to be du Plessis' swansong.
South Africa's squad is far from confirmed but du Plessis wants to start finding a blueprint as soon as possible and getting them used to each other's playing styles. "In an ideal world we would like to try and make sure that we can play our best 11, 12 or 13 players for a few games or series together leading up to the T20 World Cup," du Plessis said. "A learning curve for me with the 50-over World Cup last year was that we never had the combinations we were looking for. As a new coach, Ottis Gibson didn't know a lot of the players. There was a search for a lot of layers and finding combinations. If I could do that over again, I would try and settle into the combinations a little earlier so the guys can play as many games as possible together."
Not only was the fifty-over World Cup squad dogged by uncertainty, but it was also plagued by injury. Dale Steyn was included despite carrying a shoulder injury and did not play a game before being sent home, Lungi Ngidi missed crucial matches with a hamstring injury and Hashim Amla was concussed in the first match and missed the next two. Steyn has since staked a claim for inclusion in the T20 World Cup with strong performances in the Mzansi Super League and Big Bash and could bowl alongside Ngidi, who is currently recovering from another hamstring niggle. Amla has retired, leaving a gap at the top of the order which de Villiers could fill. If all that comes together, South Africa could have some big names as they look to break their major trophy drought.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent