It’s time we drew a line under the exhausting flirtation with AB’s return

2020-03-24 09:37

What with the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak having raided SuperSport’s live coverage cupboard to the point where it is bare, our staple sporting diet as we self-isolate is on DStv Catch Up, where you can relive pretty much every memorable event from the past decade or so.

One such unforgettable episode was the occasion of AB de Villiers scoring that jaw-dropping 149 against the West Indies in the Pink ODI five years ago.

In the innings that cemented his “Mr 360” nickname, De Villiers compiled those runs off 44 balls, setting new world records for the fastest man to a half century (16 balls) and a ton (31 balls), and equalling the number of sixes (16) in an ODI innings.

As impressive as those numbers sound, there was something otherworldly about some of the shots De Villiers played – like reverse-sweeping a 140km/h low full toss for four, and those paddle scoops around the corner for six – even if you were seeing it for the umpteenth time in five years.

It’s the kind of nostalgic footage one suspects would move the kids to say “if missing out was a person” in reference to De Villiers. And given that Covid-19 has ground the news week to a halt, it was almost predictable that someone would write a whole story suggesting that De Villiers return to the Proteas set-up in time for the T20 World Cup in October.

Typically, De Villiers – who left the Proteas in the lurch by retiring ahead of last year’s World Cup and then wanted to come back the week the final squad for the tournament was being announced – hasn’t exactly ruled himself out.

By being quoted as saying “let’s wait and see what happens” this week, De Villiers ensured that not only more column inches would be wasted on the should-he, shouldn’t-he return debate, he’s also inadvertently threatened what little progress the Proteas have made in recent weeks.

For more than a year, the Proteas haven’t been able to buy a series win, a situation that forced them to cast the selection net wide and reward players who have done well on the domestic circuit.

Said players, Heinrich Klaasen, Kyle Verreynne, Janneman Malan, Jon-Jon Smuts and Lutho Sipamla, did their bit as the Proteas whitewashed the Australians 3-0 in winning the first series of their international summer at home.

The gifted De Villiers will always be able to seduce South African cricket fans precisely because of what he has never been able to do for them, which is win them an ICC trophy.

With those pieces of the puzzle falling into place, roping in De Villiers sounds like it would be disruptive to a team that was beginning to see real progress for the first time since the likes of De Villiers, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy retired.

The obvious argument in De Villiers’ favour is his experience, particularly at a time when the Proteas are rebuilding. But there is such a thing as being experienced in not winning the big ones, as De Villiers, Cricket SA director of cricket Graeme Smith, Proteas head coach Mark Boucher and batting consultant Jacques Kallis will attest.

At what stage will we draw a line under the unseemly flirtation with South African cricket’s Peter Pan? The gifted De Villiers will always be able to seduce South African cricket fans precisely because of what he has never been able to do for them, which is win them an ICC trophy.

Also, De Villiers’ citing, earlier this year, being friends with the new Proteas coaching staff as one of the reasons it would be great to be involved again can only have ramped up the pressure on Smith and co, who have been accused of running a jobs-for-pals racket.

Boucher has reportedly set the deadline to De Villiers declaring his availability for the Proteas as June 1. Wouldn’t it be nice if he made a call instead of leaving himself exposed like Ottis Gibson did on the eve of the World Cup last year?

.Follow me on Twitter @simxabanisa

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March 29 2020