‘Everything must be sacrificed for the team’

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AB de Villiers has done just about everything there is to do on a cricket field. He batted at every spot from No. 1 to No. 8 before establishing himself at No. 4. Once there, he broke the South African record for the highest individual Test score; he started off as the perfect prowler at backward point and went on to keep wicket in limited-overs cricket. He has even bowled, two overs in ODIs, 33 in Tests, and claimed two wickets. de Villiers has done it all, but he has never captained a team. At least, not yet.

On October 13, in Cape Town, that will change. de Villiers will lead South Africa in a Twenty20 against Australia, and so will begin a new era for South African cricket. “It’s unknown territory for me but I believe I can do the job,” de Villiers told ESPNcricinfo. “I think I was the captain of a schools team once, but I never captained at provincial or franchise level. It was a bit of a surprise when the national captaincy came my way.”

For many, it was not unexpected. de Villiers was an automatic choice. He epitomises the South African sportsman: as talented as he is hardworking, as overflowing with optimism as he is gritty on the field, and as idolised as a hero as he is approachable. Most of all, it’s his attribute of being the ultimate team man that makes him ideal captaincy material.

He has always come across as a service-before-self individual. We could see it when he played in his second Test, against England in 2004, and saved the game with a half-century while batting at No. 8. We would see it in his resolute 174 that helped South Africa win the Headingley Test, and later their first series in England since readmission, and in Perth later that year, when his century formed the backbone of South Africa’s record second-innings chase of 414. Luckily for de Villiers, his stars have aligned in such a way that his individual performances have coincided with significant achievements for the national team.

It’s only the latter that the man himself cares about, though. “I’m not the kind of guy who cares how many hundreds I’ve scored. My personal goals have always and will always take a backseat to the team.” If there is one thing de Villiers wants to characterise his captaincy, it’s that: no individualism, everything for the collective.

“I want the guys to play for the team, and for there to be no selfishness. Everything must be sacrificed for the team; they will have to put their own performances aside. But that doesn’t mean that the individual records must suffer. For some guys, playing for the team will mean achieving more personally,” de Villiers said, evidently speaking from personal experience.

His seemingly almost communist-like attitude to cricket starts with himself. “I am prepared to do anything to make this work,” he said. “Even if it means that I will average less with the bat or whether it means I will keep or not keep.”

His keeping has been the subject of much debate since Mark Boucher was dropped from the one-day side last year. It was initially a concern that de Villiers would not be able to handle the dual role. Although his batting average was higher when he donned the gloves than when he didn’t, and the extra job seemed to have a positive effect on his mindset, a persistent back problem meant that he was only able to keep wicket in three of the five World Cup games he played this year. Now with the additional responsibility of captaincy, there is renewed concern that de Villiers should not be overburdened, physically and mentally.

He has made a full recovery from the back trouble, and was able to play as a wicketkeeper-batsman for the entire fourth season of the IPL for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. His coach at the franchise, Ray Jennings favours de Villiers taking on the the three tasks: “He is a keeper who is very involved in the game, and so when he is playing in that role, it gives him a good position to run the team from.”

Jennings wanted de Villiers as his captain for Bangalore, in fact, and even spoke to him when South Africa were playing Pakistan in the UAE in November last year. “I thought he had the right leadership qualities, and I didn’t really know Dan [Vettori] very well, so my heart wanted a South African. Dan ended up being superb, and AB acted as a captain in the side even though he wasn’t the captain.”

Jennings said de Villiers’ influence and work ethic were key to the team’s success. “His attitude as a player is contagious. He has a superb value system and work ethic, and younger players responded well to him.”

Fortunately for South Africa, de Villiers plans to stick to the basics that made him the player he is now. “I will still be myself. I don’t want to change too much, but I hope to discover something special in my captaincy.”

That something special will come from being different to his predecessors – Graeme Smith, who stepped down as the one-day captain after the 2011 World Cup, and Johan Botha, who was replaced by de Villiers as the Twenty20 captain – while still working with them. Smith has made himself available for the Twenty20 and one-day teams, and remains captain of the Test team, where de Villiers is his deputy.

There is a school of thought that captaining a side that includes an ex-captain is difficult, particularly if that man is Smith, an authoritative figure on his own. Not so, said de Villiers. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am going to work closely with Graeme. He is someone that I can fall back on.”

The relationship with Botha appears to be more complicated, because Botha did not relinquish the captaincy, but de Villiers said there are no hard feelings. “Johan actually SMS-ed me when the announcement was made, said congratulations, and told me he will always be around if I need him.” The absence of malice from either former captain should help allow de Villiers the space to develop his own style of leadership. “It would be stupid to copy any other captain,” he said.

He also has a new coach to work under – Gary Kirsten, who played alongside Smith and Jacques Kallis, but is a childhood hero to de Villiers.

“I first met Gary with a few of the older guys in the team, but I never played with him,” de Villiers said. “I got to know him a little better when he was in Pretoria in 2005. He gave me a call to talk about my batting, and we met and he gave me some throwdowns.”

de Villiers said he was “very happy” when Kirsten was named coach because “he has his heart in it”. Much like de Villiers himself.

Although he has dabbled in a musical career and is a talented golfer and tennis player, it’s on the cricket field that he wants to do South Africa proud. Not so much as star batsman, agile wicketkeeper or courageous captain, but as a member of a winning team. “I am in love with my country and I want to win major series and tournaments for it.”

Source: ESPN CricInfo – June 20, 2011 / FIRDOSE MOONDA

Mark may come in from the cold

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The cruelty of a sniping winter’s day can so often be eased by hearty soup. Besides the warmth, there is a certain safety that comes with it, the feeling of being cared for and protected, the feeling of familiarity and most importantly, the feeling of being home.

It is that sentiment that surrounds Gary Kirsten and the South African team, now that the World Cup winner has been confirmed as the man to take them into a new age. Kirsten is the prodigal son and now that he is back on home soil, it raises an interesting question into how far back into the past he may want to blast the side.

There is only one spot in the current squad that can allow for the revival of a flailing career and that position is behind the stumps. Mark Boucher could be the biggest beneficiary of Kirsten’s appointment, with the new coach unlikely to want to experiment in a department that is precarious.

Boucher made his case to keep his place in the Test team, with a hard-fought half-century in the third Test against India in Cape Town in January. He showed his big-match temperament in batting with Jacques Kallis for long enough to ensure the draw, a clear indication that he still has staying power in the longest format of the game.

His one-day career has effectively been over since June last year, but he might be in line for a recall. Neither Kirsten nor AB de Villiers was ready to comment on how the new ODI captain will manage batting, leading the side and keeping.

Even if De Villiers is mentally capable of all three, physically, he might not be.

Persistent back problems saw him don the wicket-keeping gloves just twice in seven ODIs during the World Cup, and a fitness test in Nagpur, ahead of the India game, showed why De Villiers’s body may not be up to the task. He barely managed to bend down to collect the ball during his fielding drills.

Heino Kuhn, who is closest to being groomed as a successor, has played in only three T20s. Although he has been selected for numerous SA A tours, and has a first-class batting average of 44.42, the selectors appear reluctant to let him make the step up. Davy Jacobs is the other contender. He so impressed former Indian international Kiran More during his stint at the Mumbai Indians that More said he would be ready for international cricket in six months.

Jacobs’s fearless attitude and hunger to succeed would make him a timely choice but he has not been included in the SA A side to tour Zimbabwe later this month.

All signs point back to Boucher, who has been the man in possession for more than a decade. He would strengthen the fragile middle order that collapsed against New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, add vital experience to a youthful bunch and, rightly or wrongly, would give the limited-overs squad that familiar feeling of being home.

Source: Times Live – June 14, 2011 / FIRDOSE MOONDA

AB de Villiers relishes captaincy challenge

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At the start of his cricket career, captaincy may have “definitely not been” one of AB de Villiers’ goals, but now that he has been appointed South Africa’s limited-overs captain, de Villiers is “prepared to give up everything to make it work”.

de Villiers takes over from Graeme Smith, who stepped down as the ODI and Twenty20 captain after the World Cup, and will be Smith’s deputy in Tests. In an interview with Reuters, de Villiers confessed that while he didn’t enjoy his previous stint as captain when he was at school, those misgivings were now behind him. “I captained my team at school (Afrikaans High School, Pretoria) for a few games but I didn’t enjoy it so much,” De Villiers said. “I was more focussed on my batting then and playing other sports like rugby.”

So what was it that brought about a change of heart? “Captaining South Africa was definitely not one of my goals,” de Villiers said, “but I started believing I could do it when Graeme Smith said I had a lot of leadership qualities. He said I should take more responsibility, act more like a leader and talk more in team meetings.”

“Henning Gericke [mental conditioning coach] and Corrie van Zyl [South Africa coach until the World Cup] said I could be a captain if I wanted to be one. That’s when I started to believe.”

de Villiers rated his predecessor Smith as the best captain he has played under and said he was very keen to make his captaincy stint work. “I truly believe I have qualities as a captain and I have to make up my own mind – captain the team my way, not how Hansie [Cronje] or Graeme did it. As a captain, I can’t make the same mistake twice. As a player, you can get away with that, but if the captain does that then it affects the whole team.”

He also said he respected the “passion, pride and fighting spirit”, that Gary Kirsten, South Africa’s newly-appointed national coach, showed during his playing days. “He’s shown the same qualities as a coach, especially at the World Cup, and I hope I’ll be able to help bring those into our side too. I’d like to be the same sort of captain, showing resilience.

“I think we’ll complement each other a lot, Gary’s just a wonderful coach and a top-class human being.”

Having played 66 Tests, 119 ODIs and 33 Twenty20 games for South Africa, de Villiers is not only one of the senior batsmen in the side, he is also keeps wickets in the limited-overs format. He acknowledged that with captaincy, the additional responsibility of keeping wickets will have to be re-examined. “We’re definitely going to have to discuss the wicketkeeping, although it doesn’t have to happen right now. But it is important to decide if there is too much on my shoulders.”

de Villiers said one of his key objectives as captain would be to address South Africa’s history of failing to succeed in multi-team tournaments. “Obviously, we have a history of not performing well in big events. We didn’t play badly overall, but went down when the pressure was on us again.

“But there’s a fresh look in the side now, which is good, and then it’s up to the leaders to work together with trust. But it’s an unbelievable responsibility.”

Source: ESPN CricInfo – June 12, 2011

Proteas trio crack M&G Young SA list

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Newly appointed Proteas one-day international (ODI) and Twenty20 captain AB de Villiers and vice captain, Hashim Amla, have been named in the Mail & Guardian’s annual list of 200 Young South Africans, along with Proteas paceman Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

In the case of De Villiers and Amla this completes a memorable week of a hat-trick of achievements. First they were named to their new leadership positions and then they received major honours at the annual South African Cricket Awards Gala Banquet and now their leadership qualities have received further recognition.

De Villiers retained his title as ODI Cricketer of the Year while Amla earned the respect of his peers and the endorsement of the public by being voted Cricket South Africa (CSA) Players’ Player of the Year and CSA Fans’ Cricketer of the Year.

Tsotsobe also had a good week being named T20 International Cricketer of the Year.

Mail & Guardian Editor-In-Chief Nic Dawe, said: “Nine out of 10 people profiled in the Mail & Guardian’s 2011 line-up of 200 Young South Africans are new to the list, which is the product of the combined talents of our in-house research team and an avid bunch of social-media contributors, who weighed in on our website, along with Facebook and Twitter. “In the end we chose them for their impact, their creativity and the resonance of their values with the project of building the South Africa that we all want to live in: vibrant, prosperous, equitable, diverse and hungry for the challenges of growth and change.”

CSA CEO Gerald Majola commented: “This recognition is well deserved and we take great pride in what these three young men have achieved both on the field and off it. They are all part of a new leadership group emerging in the Proteas’ team to take our side forward to new levels.

“They all come from totally different backgrounds and this richness of diversity should serve as an inspiration to all South Africans that there is no limit to what can be achieved regardless of background, creed or culture.”

Source: SuperSport – June 11, 2011

Kirsten discussed SA captaincy during IPL – de Villiers

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AB de Villiers, South Africa’s newly-appointed limited-overs captain, has said Gary Kirsten discussed with him the issue of taking on a leadership role in the national team while he was in Bangalore, playing in the IPL.

“He [Kirsten] put the plans on the table and asked whether I would be prepared to do it. Of course one could not say no to something like that,” de Villiers said after Cricket South Africa’s awards function on Tuesday. “I was a little dumbstruck because he is one of my heroes and it was great to see him.”

The offer came as a surprise, de Villiers said. “He phoned me and said he would like to share his thoughts with me. I initially thought he would only be discussing batting with me, he’s helped me before with that. I definitely did not expect it. [But] I can’t wait for the challenge.”

On his style of captaincy, De Villiers said he planned to fine-tune his batting and lead by example. “Gary and I will make plans and ensure that I don’t carry too much on my shoulders. I would like to lead by example – I want to be that kind of captain. It’s important for me to get runs and lead from the front.

“I will work myself to a standstill in the off-season to ensure my batting is up to scratch. I also have an idea the captaincy will motivate me to play better.”

Source: ESPN CricInfo – June 9, 2011 / STAFF WRITERS