AB de Villiers hopes to use the three T20s against England to thoroughly banish memories of the Champions Trophy exit and the resultant analysis of his leadership and lack of runs. De Villiers will captain a fairly inexperienced squad, which includes nine players from the failed Champions Trophy campaign but is without several seniors who are being rested before the Test, and he hopes they can use the matches to find a rhythm South Africa have lacked on this tour.
"It was a tough few days after the Champions Trophy, to go through that phase of reflecting and to hear some of the criticism. It's never easy but I have always been the kind of guy to see the positive in that and see opportunity to improve. These three matches give me that opportunity as a player and as a captain for the team," de Villiers said. "I don't feel like I need to prove anyone wrong or prove something to someone. I just want to go play. I feel like a youngster starting my career again. I am really full of energy and love playing. I just want to score some runs again and captain the team to a few good wins."
With a total of 20 runs from his three innings in the Champions Trophy, on the back of a quiet IPL, it's fair to say de Villiers had a lean run but he insisted he is in good touch and simply a victim of poor luck. "I feel like I am playing very well. I had a couple of bad dismissals in those two games. The first game I tried to take it on a bit. The second game I don't know how the ball went up in the air like that. The third game I felt like I was going to get 200 off 5 balls so I got run out. There's nothing wrong with my form. The results are not showing."
Neither are they showing for South Africa. They arrived in England on a high following a successful 2016-17 season, in which they won eight trophies including three fifty-over series and sat at No.1 on the ODI rankings but are empty-handed. They lost their three-match ODI series to England and crashed out of the Champions Trophy in the first round, adding to a trove of major tournament misery.
This time, de Villiers is taking a different approach to his reaction. Instead of dwelling on the disappointment, he is determined to get over it as quickly as possible.
"I am past that stage of really harping on it for a very long time. The difficult part is the criticism all around, just hearing the negative stuff all the time but I am past nagging about losing games of cricket because that happens. It's happened quite a few times," de Villiers said. "I am not going to look into that too much. I am ready to move on. I know I am still a good player, I know the team can still achieve amazing things and it's important for me not to think about what happened in the past. I am not going to spend too much energy thinking about the last 10 or 12 tournaments I have played in."
But he is still devoting time to thinking about the one tournament he does want to play in: the 2019 World Cup. In an effort to remain fit and focused, de Villiers has opted out of Test cricket for the rest of the year - and he has hinted it may be longer than that - which has earned the ire of some former players. Both Ashwell Prince and Herschelle Gibbs commented that players should not be allowed to dictate their availability to the national board but de Villiers claims that is not what he is doing.
"It's never been about managing my workload. It's more about prioritising certain things that I still want to achieve. I've never been picking and choosing my games," he said. "It's making sure I am in the best form for that 2019 World Cup. That's the goal. I have to regroup with CSA when I get back home. The new season will be starting and I have to see how I fit in and move forward from there."
De Villiers will be part of the new Global T20 League, as the marquee player for the Pretoria franchise. The competition will run across November and December, preceding a yet-to-be-confirmed series against India that will feature four Tests. It was initially de Villiers' aim to play in those Tests but it remains to be seen if he does, especially as his own recent statements are more aligned with shorter formats, 50-over particularly.
Despite South Africa's premature end to the Champions Trophy, with the World Cup to be played in the same place, de Villiers believes they were taught lessons they could help them in future. "We learnt a lot of things. Pakistan surprised all of us. The way they controlled the middle overs, especially with the ball in hand. From the mental point of view, it shows that any team can come out on top on the day," he said. "We made a few notes - mental notes which we will use coming back in 2019. I hope I will be part of that. That's the plan."