AB de Villiers, the Proteas’ most brazen and crowd-pleasing batsman across the formats, has been nailed down for further involvement in Test cricket … at least for the period up to the next World Cup in late May next year.
Sport24 has learnt from Cricket South Africa that De Villiers, who was part of an updated list of 18 CSA-contracted players to mid-2019 announced a few days ago, will be available across the board.
But the veteran’s workload will also be managed carefully, meaning that Tests and one-day internationals – both very much his forte statistically – are likely to be prioritised at the expense, more often than not, of Twenty20 internationals.
Although they are invaluable in gate-receipt terms, T20 internationals are widely considered not much more than “nice to haves” on bilateral tours, and the next event of real relevance in that format is not due until 2020: the next ICC World Twenty20 in Australia.
By then, there is every chance that currently 34-year-old De Villiers – along with several other senior members of the present Proteas playing pool – will have quit the international landscape, at the very least.
Nevertheless, it is a fillip for South African fans that the ace, in-form stroke-player will be extending his presence in the time-honoured Test format, along with the always-anticipated situation that he would want another (final) crack at the 50-overs World Cup in England and Wales in the middle of next year.
De Villiers took a much-discussed, lengthy break from the five-day game between January 2016 and December 2017, having been on the general international treadmill since his Test debut against England at St George’s Park back in late 2004.
He has admitted, especially since having become a father, that he was “just tired of playing … I was flat, physically and mentally”.
But he has also enthused more recently that he has felt fresher again, and the evidence has been strongly apparent during the tense, controversial Test series against the Aussies thus far.
He is the leading runs-scorer for either country across the first two Tests, with 225 at an average of 112.50 and just two dismissals – one a run-out.
His absolutely vital second-innings knock of 126 not out in the Port Elizabeth victory was described by long-time former SA skipper Graeme Smith as “one of the great Test innings”.
Some pundits and enthusiasts understandably feared not too long ago that the two major Test series of the home summer, first against India and now the Baggy Greens, might constitute De Villiers’ swansong in the most traditional form of the game.
But it now appears the dashing No 4 is “safe” for all further Test obligations up to mid-2019.
South Africa are scheduled to play three Tests in Sri Lanka in August, and have further series at home to Zimbabwe (that just a once-off Test), Pakistan and then Sri Lanka again in 2018/19.
De Villiers sports 8,563 Test runs from 112 appearances at 50.66 and has played 18 Tests at Newlands, scene of the looming third clash with the Australians, with three centuries at the ground.
That tally includes a memorable knock of 163 against them in March 2009, when he got stuck into luckless Aussie leg-spinning debutant Bryce McGain (0/149 in 18 overs) during the lone required SA innings; McGain never played another Test match.
Especially as they have been debatably stripped of the services of star fast bowler Kagiso Rabada through suspension for Newlands and then the Wanderers, De Villiers will be a critical part of the Proteas’ plans to nose ahead in Cape Town after being 1-0 down early in the series …