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Gloveless AB a better captain?

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South Africa's ODI captain AB de Villiers was relishing his first opportunity to lead his team without keeping wicket, but now he is suspended for two matches because of a slow over rate. Picture: Grant Pitcher

Johannesburg – What does AB de Villiers want? Does he want to be the world’s best batsman? In 2009, the answer to that question was an emphatic “yes”. It meant he didn’t want to be wicketkeeper.

In 2010, in the lead-up to the following year’s Cricket World Cup, the selectors reckoned having De Villiers as keeper provided the side with more options. De Villiers took the gloves but remained reluctant.

Then came the captaincy of the limited overs teams following Gary Kirsten’s appointment as coach. De Villiers stayed as keeper. Before the England tour, he wasn’t being considered as one of the candidates for the Test keeping position, but the horrific injury to Mark Boucher, required a sudden change in plan.

De Villiers set aside the quest to be the world’s best batsman to become the South African side’s wicketkeeper/batsman, a role he played in England and later Australia. After that, there’d be a re-think. Except De Villiers changed his mind again and reckoned he could handle being keeper/batsman in the Test side. That left Thami Tsolekile sidelined.

But then came the decision this week that he no longer wanted to keep in the ODIs (no one’s sure if this applies to T20 since he opted to “rest” for the series against New Zealand, with Faf du Plessis assuming the captaincy). Instead, he would “focus” on the captaincy in ODIs with 20-year-old Quinton de Kock taking the gloves.

“We feel that to captain, bat at No4 and keep is a very hard task, especially as a new captain,” Kirsten said this week. “It’s something we spoke about even before he started the role because I was concerned that it was going to be too much to ask of him. He really wants to focus his attention on his captaincy.”

De Villiers and Kirsten are fully entitled to change their minds and with two years to go to the next World Cup, getting De Villiers more comfortable in the position as skipper can be justified.

But there needs to be greater clarity about De Villiers’ future. If he needs to “focus” on captaincy, then every opportunity he gets to skipper the side must be taken – that means no resting from T20 matches.

“At the moment, we’d like to give him an opportunity to grow his captaincy and in time maybe he will say he can keep now. The stress has been just he has had all this on his shoulders, keeping for 50 overs. He feels keeping in 50 overs is more intense than in a Test and he just needs to understand how he is going to go about captaining this team.”

Maintaining De Villiers as wicketkeeper in the one-day format is still the best way for South Africa to go. It allows them to play an extra batsman or bowler. There’s nothing wrong in using De Kock for the series’ against New Zealand and Pakistan, but come the Champions Trophy in England in June, De Villiers should be back behind the stumps.

De Kock is an interesting choice simply because he is so inexperienced. He’s produced some explosive performances in domestic cricket, but not on a sufficiently consistent basis to justify his selection to the national side at this stage. Kirsten made a comparison between De Kock and Mark Boucher – who was brought in to “mentor” the 20-year-old this week – about both making their international debuts at the same age.

However, when Boucher was first picked for South Africa in 1995, the depth of wicketkeepers in the country was shallow – Nic Pothas was the only other serious consideration. De Kock has, however, leap-frogged the likes of Daryn Smit, Dane Vilas, Heino Kuhn and Tsolekile. There’s nothing wrong with the selectors picking De Kock, but with so many options about – and particularly players who have performed well over a number of seasons – the selectors appear to be very hasty, especially as De Kock has yet to play a full season of domestic cricket.

For the remaining limited overs matches of the season though, the spotlight will be firmly on De Villiers’ captaincy. And if he’s a better captain at the end of the season, he should return to taking the gloves, for that is what’s better for South Africa’s one-day team. – Sunday Independent


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