CAPE TOWN – It was only six months ago that Proteas captain Faf du Plessis resigned himself to the fact that AB de Villiers would no longer play Test cricket.
De Villiers was in the middle of a self-imposed sabbatical having last played a Test in January 2016 against England in Johannesburg.
During the intervening period, Du Plessis, who took over the leadership from De Villiers, had led the Proteas to series victories over New Zealand (home and away), Australia (away) and Sri Lanka (home).
However, it was still a bitter pill to swallow, considering the Proteas batting unit was being exposed against the swinging ball in England at the time, but Du Plessis still believed the Proteas had come to look forward rather than over their shoulders all the time.
“I would love AB to play – we all know how good he is and we missed him, but we’ve spent too much time talking about when he is going to come back.
“The hope of him coming back is something we need to move past, we need to find someone else to fulfil that role. If AB comes back it’s a huge bonus but I don’t expect him to come back into the Test team,” the skipper said at the time.
It is now ironic that De Villiers will most likely make his return to the longest format for the inaugural four-day pink ball Test on Boxing Day at the expense of the injured Du Plessis.
The Proteas captain is currently recovering from a lower back injury sustained in the third ODI against Bangladesh in October, and is facing a race against the clock to be fit.
A lot has happened since the England tour, but most importantly De Villiers has availed himself for the Proteas across all formats once more. It certainly is significant because prior to the recent Bangladesh home series, there was a serious dearth of century-makers in the Proteas Test side.
Only opener Dean Elgar reached three-figures over the course of eight innings for the Proteas during the four-match series in England, while South Africa have only scored over 400 in an innings once away from home since the second innings of the first Test against Australia at the Waca last November.
New Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has already stated that it would be stupid for De Villiers not to return to the Test side immediately, starting with the Test in Port Elizabeth.
The facts certainly support Gibson. Over the course of 107 Test matches, De Villiers has accumulated 8 074 runs at an average of 50.46, which includes 21 centuries.
After the once-off Test against Zimbabwe, the Proteas season only gets tougher, with World No 1 India and Australia visiting these shores for six Test matches.
Although the 33-year-old only averages 35.21 against the Indians at home, he is hugely prolific against the Aussies, boasting an average of 51.05.
Anyone who has watched De Villiers perform in the recent RamSlam T20 Challenge for the Titans can attest to the renewed hunger for the game the veteran has been displaying.
Not only has he struck 232 runs at an average of 77.33, but he is also been energetic in the field and fully driven in trying to help the Titans defend their RamSlam T20 crown.
Equally AB is fully committed to doing the hard yards prior to his Test return, with the former Proteas Test captain being included in the SA Invitational XI to face the Zimbabweans in a three-day match in Paarl next week.
It certainly is significant for it shows that he is backing up the comments he made after his brilliant 176 at the same venue back in October.
“If selected, I will be there but I can’t accept that I am going to be in the squad.
“I have been out of the squad for a while and guys that have come in have done well. You don’t just walk into the Test team. I am going to have to work my way back with hard work."
Gibson and Co are certainly looking to benefit from De Villiers’ “hard work” over the course of a summer that is only now beginning to heat up for the Proteas.