Taking on the captaincy has put AB de Villiers more firmly in the spotlight than at any other stage of the eight years he has been an international cricketer.
His responsibilities with the media have trebled, his role as wicketkeeper means he’s constantly in the game, but it is as his side’s leader that De Villiers is being most closely scrutinised. And while his image with the public is important, it is the way his teammates view him that is vital to De Villiers in the early stages of the captaincy.
Combine all that with the new strategies and ideas from a coaching staff headed up by Gary Kirsten and it means De Villiers has had a lot on his plate these last few weeks – he deserves the few weeks off he is getting before the Tour to New Zealand.
So starting off his captaincy career with a series win over Sri Lanka eases the stress on his shoulders. That, coupled with the starring role he played with the bat, means when De Villiers assesses the performance of the team he can do so in a relaxed fashion. His own form is excellent – he went passed 50 in three of the five innings’ he played, culminating in a thrilling century in the final match of the series at the Wanderers.
As a result he was able to focus on the other areas in which he contributes to the side. His keeping wasn’t as efficient as he would like it, nor how it should be for an international keeper. You could put that down to the extra concerns he has in the captaincy department.
De Villiers will grow accustomed to that. “I realised the guys feed off my energy, so to be calm and in control is very important, the guys look up to you,” he explained.
“Leading from the front not just with the bat and catching, but the way I present myself out there, it was really tough at times.”
Midway through the series the management also decided to give Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis a break while vice-captain Hashim Amla returned home after becoming a father for the first time. In the absence of so many senior professionals and match-winners, the burden on De Villiers increased even more.
He also bought into the new strategies Kirsten was keen for the side to adopt, and most crucially there was the mantra of playing the situation. That players were given responsibilities at different times – in East London JP Duminy came in to bat at No4, in Bloemfontein it was Faf du Plessis and at the Wanderers, De Villiers came in at No3. All those moves proved successful with Duminy and Du Plessis making vital half-centuries and De Villiers of course 125 not out.
“It’s quite simple, I just can’t tell you that there is a set plan,” said De Villiers.
“It’s just about which individual suits the situation better and (Sunday) I was the right man for No3, another day I might be five. If we need someone to clear the boundary Albie Morkel might come in at four or five. We just mix it up, right and left-hand combinations, when a spinner is bowling maybe get the right/left combo going to make it difficult for the spinner to settle. There are quite a few factors that play a role, but we decide on the situation and who is the best for the team.”
Kirsten has a role to play there, because decisions about the batting order are made in the dressing-room, when it comes to the bowlers De Villiers takes much more of the responsibility. There’s been no discernable pattern to how De Villiers has used the bowlers.
With the exception of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who finished as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in the series – with 11 wickets and always opened the bowling – everyone else had to adapt to the conditions or strategies were in place on a particular day. At the Wanderers, in particular, bowlers were used in very short bursts and in a move you’d definitely not associate with a South African team, the last two overs of the match were bowled by spinners.
De Villiers admitted there was plenty for him and the players to learn, and going to New Zealand will definitely help that process.
They won’t have the distraction of family and friends over there and there’ll be greater focus on playing and adopting the new strategies. After that tour we’ll know what kind of a captain De Villiers is.
Source: The Star – January 24, 2012 / STUART HESS