AB de Villiers’ possible absence from the Proteas’ much-anticipated Test series in Australia in November has once more shone the spotlight on cricket’s packed calendar, and how the sport’s leading stars are being asked to play too much.
De Villiers will have his left elbow assessed on Tuesday, but if surgery is required he will play no cricket for up to eight weeks, which will include that three match Test series Down Under against Steve Smith’s side. De Villiers is suffering with what the team’s manager Mohammed Moosajee described as an ‘impingement syndrome’.
“When he plays certain shots he gets excruciating pain in the left elbow,” said Moosajee.
The South African team remain optimistic about his chances playing some part in the One-Day series against the world champions starting next Friday, but given that he still hasn’t recovered despite last having played almost nine weeks ago, the signs at this stage aren’t good. Moosajee said De Villiers has had cortisone injected into the elbow, undergone physiotherapy and consulted a specialist, but he still had to be withdrawn from Sunday’s one-off ODI against Ireland in Benoni.
With Moosajee explaining that the injury was the result of ‘overload and overuse’, once more the focus turned to the busy schedule.
“The cricket calendar is more extended than it used to be,” Moosajee remarked. “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.”
The South African side’s coach Russell Domingo, who has previously highlighted the problems he faces owing to players not being at optimum level because there is too much cricket has submitted a report to Cricket South Africa (CSA) regarding the issue.
“There is no doubt that guys are playing too many games, in too many formats,” said Domingo. “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.
“I have forwarded a report with a list of concerns to CSA, which I’m sure will be addressed,” said Domingo. “I know that sometimes it’s bigger than me or bigger than the CSA ... it might be something for the (International Cricket Council) to look into, but I’m sure something will be done and tabled in the next couple of months.”
De Villiers is one of the sport’s most popular players and his presence in any match significantly boosts audiences. Naturally, the priority for CSA is to have him in the Proteas team - his absence significantly weakens them and in the case of the Australian Test series, gives the home team a huge advantage. The ripple effect is that Domingo is also under increasing pressure to win without the team’s best players.
“You want your best players playing all the time. I’d love (Dale) Steyn, (Hashim) Amla, (Vernon) Philander, De Villiers playing every single game, but it’s impossible with the amount of cricket that’s being played. When the decision to rest players gets made, it’s not just lets 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 recent decision to withdraw Smith early from the Tour of Sri Lanka drew much ire because it wasn’t communicated properly, while for the ODI series starting next week, the Australians will be without Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood who are being rested.
Domingo said that Steyn and Kagiso Rabada’s workloads will also be managed during the ODIs as the coaching staff looks to strike a balance between ensuring they get enough miles in the legs, while also trying to keep them fresh and, of course, having them play at an optimum level to help the team win.