"I think so, he is the captain. He is definitely the captain," Steyn said at an exhibition match between the South African cricket and rugby teams at Newlands. "I know Faf has done really well for us right now, but AB is the captain. He has earned that spot. He has played for a long time, and he said he wants to do it and he got the opportunity to. Unfortunately, he got injured, but he is the man at the end of the day."
De Villiers was named Test captain in February after having taken the role temporarily when Hashim Amla stood down midway during the home series against England, but has yet to properly assume his new job. An elbow injury that required surgery kept de Villiers out of the home Tests against New Zealand in August and the series in Australia. He is expected to be fit for the Sri Lanka series, which starts on Boxing Day. But he has only had one net session so far and has yet to get any game time, which is why Graeme Smith felt de Villiers' focus should be on getting match fit before he thinks about the captaincy conundrum.
"The most important thing for AB now is just to focus on getting back and fit and playing cricket. I don't think he should even engage in thinking about that (the captaincy) because he can't captain from the sidelines," Smith said. "Having had an elbow injury, it's not an easy thing to recover from. It takes time, getting those tendons strong and all those muscles. That's your primary arm that you use when you bat. He should focus on that. The sooner we can get him playing cricket for South Africa, the better."
Smith said he enjoyed seeing South Africa "streamline" the leadership, but explained they may be wary of appointing one captain across formats as T20s could create the space required for managing the Test and ODI captain's workload. "It's very difficult to captain all three formats, and the T20 format is a difficult one because you don't play a huge amount of cricket. So is that the right time to rest your captain, with the workloads he is going to have in one-day and Test cricket?" Smith asked.
Smith isn't the only one to voice that concern. After de Villiers spent a significant period of the previous summer hinting that heavy workloads could send him into early retirement, the most obvious solution seemed to be him playing fewer, or even no international T20s. Du Plessis is the captain in that format, and with no ICC event scheduled until 2020, de Villiers may not get a chance to win a major trophy in T20Is, choosing instead to focus on Tests and ODIs. In that case, "keeping your captain fresh is an important part of maintaining success," Smith said.
The only problem with that is that South Africa's recent successes, after the troubles in the previous summer, have come under du Plessis. He was brought back to lead the side, after being dropped for the final Test against England earlier this year. South Africa won both series' they played under him to begin their climb from No. 7.
Du Plessis' leadership was widely praised, and the squad showed him an extraordinary level of support, particularly when he was charged with ball tampering. Du Plessis himself said he saw that as a sign they "respected him" as a leader. However, he was quick to dismiss suggestions that he was after de Villiers' job, saying he was "100% behind" de Villiers when he returns as captain.
Steyn, who will be sidelined for at least the rest of this season as he recovers from a broken shoulder, agreed. "When AB steps back into the side, there should be almost no question about it. I know there have been eyebrows raised because Faf has done well, but there should never be any question about who the real captain is or who the captain is, and he should just step back into it and continue what Faf has already started."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent