Johannesburg: AB de Villiers’ possible absence from the Proteas’ Test series in Australia in November has again shone a spotlight on cricket’s calendar and the workload of the game's leading stars.
De Villiers will have his troublesome left elbow assessed on Tuesday but if surgery is required, he will be sidelined for up to eight weeks, ruling him out of the three-Test series Down Under.
The Proteas captain is suffering with what team manager Mohammed Moosajee describes as an “impingement syndrome.” “When he plays certain shots he gets excruciating pain in the left elbow,” said Moosajee.
The Proteas remain optimistic about De Villiers' chances of playing in the ODI series against the world champions, starting next Friday, but given that he still hasn’t recovered after almost nine weeks out of action, the prospects don’t look good.
Moosajee says De Villiers has had cortisone injections, undergone physiotherapy and recuperation as well as consulted a specialist, but he still had to be withdrawn from Sunday’s one-off ODI against Ireland in Benoni.
Moosajee explains that the 32-year-old's injury as a result of “overload and overuse”. So, the focus has turned to a congested schedule that not only includes international cricket but various T20 leagues around the world.
“The cricket calendar is more extended than it used to be,” Moosajee said. “The IPL has added to the load. Having played more than 10 years of international cricket (like De Villiers has), there will be some form of injuries.”
Proteas coach Russell Domingo has already submitted a report to Cricket SA on the issue. “There is no doubt that guys are playing too many games, in too many formats,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we as a national side sit with issues in that we are keeping guys fit to go and play in other tournaments, which is painful for me. Guys are playing too much and something needs to be done about it.”
“I have forwarded a report with a list of concerns to CSA which I’m sure will be addressed,” Domingo added. “I know that sometimes it’s bigger than me or bigger than Cricket SA... it might be something for the ICC to look into, but I’m sure something will be done and tabled in the next couple of months.”
De Villiers is one of cricket’s most popular players so naturally the priority for CSA is to have him available for the Proteas. His absence weakens them and in the case of the Australian Test series, gives the hosts an advantage.
The ripple effect is that Domingo, who in the last year has coached a Proteas team without Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander for significant periods of time, is also under increasing pressure to win without South Africa’s best players.
“You want your best players playing all the time. I’d love Steyn, (Hashim) Amla, Philander, De Villiers playing every single game, but it’s impossible with the amount of cricket that’s being played," he said.
"When the decision to rest players gets made, it’s not just ‘let's give this oke a holiday’, there is a bit of thought that goes into it, because we know how much cricket is going to be played.”
Australia’s decision to withdraw skipper Steve Smith early from their tour to Sri Lanka drew much ire as it wasn’t clearly communicated, while for the ODIs starting next week, the Australians will be without Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. The duo are being rested with an eye on the Test series.
Domingo says that Steyn's, as well as Kagiso Rabada's, workload will also be managed over the next few weeks as the coaching staff look to strike a balance between getting enough miles in their legs, while also trying to keep them fresh and playing at an optimum level to help the team win.
Meanwhile, Faf du Plessis will captain the Proteas against Ireland on Sunday, with Rilee Rossouw called up to replace De Villiers.
“It’s not ideal, it’s part of the game. If he doesn’t pass the fitness test week, we’ve just got to move on. It’s difficult to replace someone of AB’s ability,” said Domingo.