JOHANNESBURG – “The good thing is, the World Cup is a long way away,” Ottis Gibson said as a means of assuaging his own and the country’s disappointment about AB de Villiers’ international retirement and thus his absence from next year’s showpiece event.
Speaking for first time since De Villiers’s announcement last week - which Gibson acknowledged shocked him too - the Proteas coach also revealed himself to be a pragmatist, stressing the importance of moving on and how De Villiers’ retirement now opens doors for others to fulfil a World Cup dream in a year’s time.
“Of course it’s disappointing,” Gibson commented yesterday.
“He’s one of the best players in the world he could have made a huge difference at the World Cup, he knows that, but he’s chosen to walk away from the game at this time. How I see it from my side, is that ‘it is what it is’. He gives me a year, not to find a replacement for him, because he can’t be replaced, but it gives an opportunity for someone to put their hand up, there’s a space to fill.
If I was a young cricketer at franchise level, there is now a hole at No 4, and I will be doing everything I can to make sure that position is mine.”
Gibson did speak to De Villiers shortly before he posted the video on-line announcing his retirement, explaining that he offered De Villiers the chance to drop Test cricket and continue with the One-Day format until the World Cup.
“He said he’s spoken to all the people he needed to about it, and once he’s come to that decision there’s no point in me trying to get him to change his mind,” said Gibson. “He wouldn’t have made the decision lightly and there is nothing I could have said at that stage to change his mind.
Once that decision has been made, as a team, from a coaching point of view I need to get everyone to move on, sport moves on pretty quickly.”
De Villiers retirement has naturally, Gibson admitted, thrown a spanner in the works. The selection net which was cast fairly wide last summer, may have to be widened some more as he and the selectors assess possible candidates for the No 4 spot in the ODI side.
Among the names Gibson discussed yesterday were Aiden Markram and more interestingly Dean Elgar, who’s played just six ODIs.
“Dean, by playing county cricket (for Surrey) puts himself in the picture. You look at his record, playing for Somerset last year he did very well in white ball cricket. He’s not out of the picture. We haven’t looked at Dean since I’ve been here, but with what’s happened with AB, and you’re looking for experience in English conditions, someone like Dean I would imagine would come back into the equation.”
Firmly in his sights right now, however, is South Africa’s Tour to Sri Lanka in July, which includes two Tests, five ODIs and a T20 International. All of South Africa’s contracted players are back in the country this week for fitness assessments, and the selectors and Gibson will meet to pick the squad on Thursday.
Important topics for that meeting will include; who will replace De Villiers in the Test side, the identity of a second front-line spinner and, of course, which other players will be drawn into the World Cup selection net.
“AB not going to Sri Lanka will create a chance for someone like Theunis (de Bruyn), who’s been waiting on the sidelines.”
De Bruyn has a solid enough domestic record, but has failed to stamp his mark in the handful of Tests he’s played thus far. De Villiers’ retirement means he should be given more opportunity to make the position his own.
Gibson is happy with the options available to the selectors in the spin department, saying the recent spin camp in India was extremely beneficial.
“To have two specialist spinners operating in those conditions might be a very good option,” he said, mentioning Titans wrist spinners Shaun von Berg and Tabraiz Shamsi as the two leading candidates for the squad to assist Keshav Maharaj.