AB de Villiers has pulled out of South Africa’s Twenty20 internationals at home against New Zealand in December, citing the need for extra rest before the Tests in January. Justin Ontong, the Cape Cobras captain, has been called into the squad.
“It’s been an exhausting few months and I feel that I need some extra rest before the Test series,” De Villiers said. “It’s for this reason that I have put in the request and I’m grateful to the team management for supporting this decision.”
When the squad was announced on December 13, South Africa’s selectors had named Faf du Plessis as captain in order to reduce the workload on de Villiers, who was included as a player. Quinton de Kock, who was part of South Africa’s Under-19 squad for the 2012 World Cup, had been designated as wicketkeeper for the T20s, and ESPNCricinfo understands he will also keep in the one-dayers after the Tests, although the ODI squad has not been named yet.
De Villiers has a history of back problems that have worsened because of wicketkeeping, and this request for a break will fuel speculation that he is in trouble again. After the World Twenty20 in September, de Villiers needed three weeks of rehabilitation for his back, and South Africa’s management denied the injury has recurred again.
“There is nothing imminently wrong with his back, it is just about managing workload,” Mohammed Moosajee said, the team manager, told ESPNcricinfo. “The plan is to rotate players like Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla because of the schedule. Morne and Dale will probably only play one or two matches each. With AB, it’s about getting his mindset right and getting him energised. It’s physical and mental.”
De Villiers had complained of stiffness and fatigue after playing in the domestic one-day cup playoff match on December 9. Moosajee said that could be a result of jetlag, as the team had only arrived from Australia four days before. De Villiers’ role in the game could also have contributed to the fatigue. He scored a century and fielded for the entire duration of Cobras’ innings because Heino Kuhn kept wicket.
Three days after that match, De Villiers said the game was “hard on my body,” and that he was glad he was a wicketkeeper for South Africa “because the time in the field was tiring.”
However, ESPNcricinfo understands wicketkeeping is partly responsible for de Villiers’ back injuries. He became the permanent Test wicketkeeper after Mark Boucher retired and wants to continue in the role. A source close to Cricket South Africa said de Villiers had been initially reluctant to take on the job but had “changed his mind” since. With Tests the focus for de Villiers, despite his role as limited-overs captain, he will be rested when the schedule allows, although he will play the IPL.
De Villiers’ replacement Ontong captained Cobras to the final of the domestic one-day cup. He scored 268 runs in 12 matches at an average of 44.66. He was part of South Africa’s squad at the World T20, although he did not play, and he lead the A side in a practice match against New Zealand on Tuesday afternoon.
“Justin has been in our limited-overs plans for some time now and he has underlined his worth during the recent one-day cup, when he excelled as a finisher,” Andrew Hudson, the convenor of selectors, said. “As we all know he is also an outstanding fielder with his direct hits and a more than useful spin bowler. We are fortunate to have a player of his calibre to replace AB and the loss of one is certainly an opportunity for the other.”
Revised Twenty20 squad:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Farhaan Behardien, Henry Davids, Quinton de Kock, Justin Ontong, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.