AB de Villiers has declared himself "ready" to take over as South Africa's Test captain but admitted he would prefer to give up the wicket-keeping gloves if entrusted with the role. Having already captained in both the Twenty20 and ODI formats, neither of which he is currently behind the stumps for, de Villiers has realised the dangers of being overburdened and wants to avoid the same at Test level unless absolutely necessary.
"Preferably I wouldn't like to do the keeping job if I am captain," de Villiers said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo. "It will be very difficult to juggle all of that together. But if I have to do all of it... I have never shied away from a challenge. It will be a great challenge to be a captain and to do whatever they want me to do."
De Villiers is considered the front-runner for the job Graeme Smith vacated in March this year after more than a decade in charge of the national team. If de Villiers is given the job but asked to hand over the gloves, one of Thami Tsolekile or Quinton de Kock will take over behind the stumps. Tsolekile lost his national contract in February but is still considered the official reserve while de Kock, who keeps in ODIs and T20s and has played one Test, is thought of as a long-term successor much like de Villiers was earmarked as Smith's heir.
Although de Villiers had never captained at school, club or franchise level, he was handed the limited-overs captaincy in 2011, when Smith stepped down after the World Cup, and also the Test vice-captaincy. Despite a difficult start in the leadership position, which saw South Africa exit the 2013 Champions Trophy in the semi-finals and lose an ODI series in Sri Lanka 4-1, and handing over the T20 reins to his school friend Faf du Plessis, de Villiers has grown into the role. South Africa have won two of their last three ODI series and de Villiers regards himself as an improved tactician.
"I have led in the shorter version - it's been a great ride and I have learnt so much. I am certainly ready to take over the Test captaincy," de Villiers said. "I would love to do it. It's up to the people above me to decide who will be the best guy to do the job. Whoever gets it, I hope he will have full support from the team, from the staff and from the administrators. He will have my support if it's not me but if it is me I will give it my best shot and hope to do a good job."
The other main contender for the role is du Plessis, who has shown an aptitude for leadership although he does not have de Villiers' experience. JP Duminy is considered an outside chance given his status as a relatively senior player across all three formats.
The process for appointing the new captain will begin with South Africa's selectors recommending a candidate for the post after consulting, among others, head coach Russell Domingo. Cricket South Africa's board will then have to ratify that choice, which is expected to happen at its meeting on June 3.
The new captain's first assignment will be to lead the team on a two-Test tour of Sri Lanka in July before a one-off Test against Zimbabwe in August. Should South Africa achieve satisfactory results in those three matches, they will leapfrog Australia, who do not play Test cricket until October, to reclaim the top Test ranking.
While that may sound relatively uncomplicated, South Africa will have to do without the services of Smith and Jacques Kallis, who retired from Tests in December, leaving the side without the experience of a combined 283 Test caps. While the dearth of seasoned players is a concern for some in South Africa, de Villiers did not went to dwell on it too much.
"I see opportunity that comes with that. We've lost some big names but some new players will get the opportunity to become heroes in the country," he said. "It's important for senior guys like myself, Hashim (Amla), Dale (Steyn), JP to move forward and to take that culture that Graeme and Jacques and Mark (Boucher) left behind. We have to show them the way. I am looking forward to the challenge of taking the team forward."