Sydney – Thami Tsolekile will no doubt gain some useful experience as the Proteas’ back-up wicketkeeper in Australia but, unless AB de Villiers is injured, he will remain an onlooker.
De Villiers indicated yesterday that – despite media reports to the contrary – he is fit, ready and able to play the twin roles of top-order batsman and wicketkeeper.
Aside from his personal feelings about the dual role, it’s important to remember what it does to the balance of the side.
As the supremely talented sportsman pointed out yesterday, his taking the gloves and batting at No 5 enables the South Africans to play an extra specialist batsman at No 7 (JP Duminy).
“I’m a big believer in playing in a successful team. The team is much bigger than the individual and we think this arrangement makes us a stronger side by opening up a spot.
“We saw that in England where JP [Duminy] played well at seven, and Vernon [Philander] too. It seemed that our batting line-up would never end.”
De Villiers was generous about Tsolekile, however, saying that he was a “handy cricketer” who had played some excellent first-class cricket in recent seasons and that he could take over the gloves if required. “He’s ready,” he said.
Another gloveman remains even more vividly in De Villiers’ mindset, however: Mark Boucher. Asked to recall the horror incident which ended Boucher’s career at Taunton in the game against Somerset at the start of the England tour, De Villiers said that all the Proteas had looked in the mirror that night and realised that sporting careers were fragile and that they should enjoy every moment and work as hard as they could for the team while they remained able to do so.
De Villiers has made it clear in this and many other interviews that Boucher remains a cherished mentor.
“Throughout my career, he’s always been an encouraging presence. He’s played a big part in where I am today. From my first day in the team (December 2004 against England in Port Elizabeth) he was a big supporter of me and my cricket, helping me during the good and tough times.
“He’s been a massive individual for me and the team. I’m still in touch with him every other day and I’m sure that will continue during this series.”
Meanwhile, the word from the Proteas’ camp last night was that Gary Kirsten and Graeme Smith wanted their Test XI to play in Sydney to give them some competitive, “red-ball” cricket ahead of the first Test in Brisbane on Friday next week.
The only reservation was that perhaps Jacques Kallis and Morne Morkel might be given a little more time off after their recent packed cricketing programme.
In Kallis’ case, there’s also the complicating factor of his having gone down with flu for two days before he emerged from the sickroom into the Sydney sun yesterday afternoon.
Kallis batted for a short while, in between a fair amount of coughing and spluttering, and bowled a short spell before returning to the team hotel.
If Kallis and Morkel don’t play this weekend, they will be replaced by Faf du Plessis and pace bowler Rory Kleinveldt.