AB de Villiers will be playing in the BBL after all with Brisbane Heat securing one of the biggest signings in the recent history of the competition.
De Villiers, who retired from international cricket in 2018, had attracted huge interest from BBL clubs earlier this year but pulled back from committing to playing in Australia in May.
However, in a surprise announcement on Tuesday morning the Heat revealed they had signed de Villiers for the second half of the tournament, including the finals should the Heat get that far.
De Villiers will spend Christmas at home in Pretoria and appears likely to link up with the Heat around January 6 or 8. The Heat play Sydney Thunder in Sydney on January 6, but de Villiers appears more likely to play his first game against Hobart Hurricanes on January 9 at the Gabba.
"You go through moments after retirement when you're really keen to play, then you just want to be at home," he said. "It's really difficult to balance that out. Time spent at home and time away, so I'm very selective of where I play at the moment, and the body is getting a bit older so I can't play too much."
"I was in close contact with [coach] Darren [Lehmann] over email and that was a big part of the reason why I am coming over. He certainly pushed me over the edge. He's a great guy and I am sure we will get to know each other well over the tournament. I've always had a lot of respect for the way he played his game and the way he handled everything when he was with the Aussie team, and I am sure I can learn a bit from him with my batting."
De Villiers said he had also spoken to former Heat captain Brendon McCullum about joining and was keen to play alongside current captain Chris Lynn after getting top know him through the IPL.
"I've spoken to Chris a few times after games in the IPL," de Villiers said. "I always enjoy the way he plays the game, he really goes after the bowling, he attacks the game, and he seems like a really good team-mate. He gives his best shot for the boys. I'm looking forward to joining forces with him. The Heat have always stood out to me.
Lehmann, the new Heat coach who took over from Daniel Vettori, was ecstatic to get a player of de Villiers' quality.
"World-class players don't just come along every day and to have a player of AB's stature and skill in the BBL is a fantastic outcome for everyone, not just the Heat,'' Lehmann said. "He's a 360-degree player, great skills, outstanding temperament, and an insightful leader. We're excited to bring him into the group this summer and allow him to showcase his skills for the fans."
De Villiers signing is a huge coup for the tournament as a whole. The BBL had significant trouble last season attracting big names. A combination of the elongated tournament and the small salary cap, by comparison to global standards, made it very difficult for clubs to attract high-quality overseas talent. When de Villiers initially withdrew his interest from playing in the BBL back in May there were genuine concerns about how the competition could attract quality overseas players moving forward.
De Villiers is the start of a set of overseas signings to come around the BBL. Australia's international players will also be available for the last week of the tournament as well as the finals in early February after a week-long ODI tour of India.
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne