AB de Villiers is already talking to key figures in South African cricket to explore the possibility of coming out of retirement for next year's T20 World Cup, captain Faf du Plessis has confirmed. Two days after new head coach Mark Boucher said he would be open to asking de Villiers to play in the event, du Plessis said that conversations on the subject have been ongoing for several months.
"People want AB to play and I am no different," du Plessis said after his Paarl Rocks team beat the Tshwane Spartans - coached by Boucher with de Villiers in the line-up - in the Mzansi Super League final on Monday night. "Those conversations have been happening for two or three months already: what does it look like, how does it look over the next year, and that's where it starts."
De Villiers retired from international cricket in May last year citing exhaustion from the workload that he had often complained about. He attempted a U-turn ahead of the 2019 World Cup and made himself available for selection on the eve of the tournament, but South Africa's selectors felt he had left it too late. Now, plans are afoot to put a proper process in place that will see de Villiers play some T20I cricket, culminating at the World Cup in Australia in October-November 2020.
"It was the dark ages last week and there's a little bit of light this week and that's very good. It's very important, it will help the dressing room and even the supporters supporting the team" Faf du Plessis
"T20 cricket is a different beast, it's not a lot of time away from home. If you are a full campaigner, you have to really get stuck in and spend a lot of time on the road," du Plessis said. "Test cricket now is the most important thing but also the T20 World Cup is not too far away and there isn't a lot - I reckon 20 T20s over the season - which won't be that hard on one to do that. Those conversations have already taken place and will continue to before the next T20 series starts."
South Africa's T20I schedule includes three matches against England and three against Australia in February next year. They then tour the West Indies in the winter and there is also talk of a white-ball series in Sri Lanka. De Villiers may not be expected to play in all those matches, especially as he will also be involved in the IPL. The idea will be to make sure de Villiers gets enough game time to be considered for the World Cup. Form might not be a worry: de Villiers was the third-highest scorer at the MSL with 325 runs in nine matches at 46.42 and scored four half-centuries, more than anyone else.
The tournament has also given du Plessis a deeper look at the talent around the country, especially in his team. The Rocks were made up of "no superstars", but the likes of Ferisco Adams and Kerwin Mungroo made names for themselves as the competition progressed.
"I've really enjoyed this campaign. I've really enjoyed working with young guys, getting their heads in the right space and getting them to understand their games better," du Plessis said. "It's great that experienced those guys can talk and help younger players because it does fast track their careers."
The MSL has served one more purpose: it confirmed du Plessis' ability to lead in the shortest format, something which appeared up for debate when he was left out of the South Africa squad to play in India. The last few months have seen talk of a succession plan that has looked to the likes of Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock to take over from du Plessis in different formats, but for now, he wants to keep going.
"I'm still very motivated to captain in all three formats and that hasn't changed," du Plessis said, while recognising that the leadership needs to be shared as the end of his career looms. "It is also important to use other captains in this process over the next year when there is an opportunity to use guys. There will be a time that someone else will need to take over and it is a great opportunity to start doing it in small series, it might be one-day cricket, it might be T20 cricket just to expose younger guys to learning."
Fifty-over cricket may be the format for experimentation over the next year, with Test cricket still du Plessis' domain and South Africa expected put a lot of emphasis on the T20 World Cup.
After a tumultuous few months, South Africa have a confirmed coaching staff and the first bricks of a structure under director of cricket Graeme Smith and the new-found clarity has du Plessis optimistic about the future.
"A lot can change in a week. We've seen that first-hand. It was the dark ages last week and there's a little bit of light this week and that's very good," he said. "It's very important, it will help the dressing room and even the supporters supporting the team. Everyone wants the team to do well, everyone wants to make sure we get the right people in the right positions. It's good that there is a bit of positivity around in and there's excitement in the air, myself included. I am very excited with the start of this new journey."