Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
The postponement of the 2020 T20 World Cup may have thrown AB de Villiers' potential South Africa comeback off the rails for the moment, but he's happy to be back playing cricket in some form after a strict five-month lockdown in South Africa because of Covid-19.
In this period, the only cricket he played was at the experimental 3TC competition in Centurion, where he slammed a 21-ball half-century to lead his side, the Eagles, to victory. Last week, de Villiers linked up with the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad for IPL 2020 in the UAE, and had his first hit on Saturday.
"It was good, very enjoyable to be out there," de Villiers told RCB TV. "It was night time, the lights were a bit blurry, the wicket was a bit sticky so it was a great challenge and actually if I could have it my way, this would've been the way I would've had it after a long time. So, I really kept my basics in place. I had to watch the ball carefully and I hit some nice shots towards the end, which was enjoyable."
De Villiers took part in a full session that included warm-up drills, a game of football, a batting session and wicketkeeping drills. Fellow South African Chris Morris, their latest recruit at the auction, was among those who bowled at de Villiers, amid a battery of net bowlers and throwdown specialists. A day earlier, Dale Steyn was part of the first batch of players to train.
That de Villiers trained with the gloves was noteworthy, considering he hasn't kept in the IPL since 2013. However, he returned to keep wickets during his stint with Brisbane Heat at the Big Bash League earlier this year. While Royal Challengers haven't officially confirmed if they are thinking on those lines - they have Parthiv Patel and Australia's Josh Phillipe as specialist wicketkeepers - it's something the franchise feels could be a "topic for discussion."
"We have had a lot of discussions about the make-up of our team. I think it is hard to say anything now, we have three weeks of the camp to get through and see how things turn out physically. Obviously, AB has kept wickets before and that will be a topic for discussion," head coach Simon Katich said during a media interaction last week. "He has a huge role to play for RCB, given his level and performances over the years for us and South Africa. We know he's world-class. He will be revitalised with the break. We'll play it by the ear, let's see what happens."
'Lockdown was a big hurdle' - Jonty Rhodes
Elsewhere, Jonty Rhodes took charge of the Kings XI Punjab group during his first session as their fielding coach. Rhodes is making a return to the IPL after having spent two seasons away post his stint with the Mumbai Indians. Like the rest of the players and support staff, Rhodes too was in lockdown in South Africa. Although initially concerned, he is at ease having complied with the mandatory six-day quarantine.
"I must confess being away from home was a big concern, having spent the last five months in lockdown in South Africa, but the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was those first six days [in quarantine]," he told the Kings XI website. "That's done. Out here as part of the coaching staff, we have to manage the players, they've also had a long lockdown period. Even though a few of the guys have been practising in the nets, when they've had the opportunity, there's no match practice in their systems."
Rhodes is excited by the young group he oversaw on Sunday. He put the onus on the senior players to lead by example, while also being enthused by the presence of a young and exciting fielding group in the set-up.
"From an energy perspective, I always look to the senior players to lead that because there's some talented young players - Mayank [Agarwal], Karun Nair, Deepak Hooda…some great fielders," he said. "But it's guys like [Mohammed] Shami who, for me, are so important to this outfit because they are often looked up to and respected in very high regard, especially in Indian cricketing circles. If they are setting high standards, then young players, it's easier for them to follow. So it's great to see Shami bhai's speed to the ball, great technique and just showing the younger guys that he's still got something left in the tank.
"I've only got out of the room today and I love the whole energy and vibe around this team. I think that is what is going to be the difference. It's great to be part of the lion's den, I've been out of IPL for two seasons, so for me it's a fresh start in many ways, and it's always exciting to work with talented young players you've watched but never worked with before."