Kolkata: If all goes according to the plan, then AB de Villiers could well be seen again in the Proteas’ green shirt in the T20 World Cup in India later this year. The clamour for this has been growing in view of South African team’s struggle in recent times - and the form of ‘Mr 360’ of cricket in the ongoing IPL 2021.
The South African may be 37, but he hardly betrayed it during a sparkling 76 off 36 balls which propelled the Royal Challengers Bangalore to a 200-plus total on Sunday and paved the way for an emphatic win against Kolkata Knight Riders. The ‘‘hard work,’’ which AB had put in in the last few months to prepare for the IPL is showing and more importantly, the positive vibes between him and current coach Mark Boucher has opened up the possibilities.
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“We are lined up to have a chat sometime during the IPL. But yes, we’ve been talking about it already. If there’s no space for me, so be it. If I can slot in there, it will be fantastic if all those things fall in place. Waiting for (the chat with) Bouchy towards the end of the IPL and we will then plan accordingly,” De Villiers said after his matchwinnings innings.
Boucher, the former wicketkeeper-batsman who had been a part of South Africa’s golden generation along with the likes of Graeme Smith (now Director of Cricket of Cricket South Africa) and Dale Styen, is perceptibly open to the idea of AB’s comeback in view of their national team’s struggle in all formats of the game. “The conversation is still very open,” Boucher said on record during their last T20 series against Pakistan. “AB being the person he is, he wanted to perform very well at the IPL to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s still a key figure in world cricket and can dominate at that level. I said to him, you go do your thing and I’ll give you a shout towards the end of the IPL and see where you are.’”
Since the last ICC World Cup in 2019, South Africa have lost eight of 11 Tests, three of nine ODIs and 13 of their 18 T20Is - making it amply clear that there is room for experience and a mentor figure when South Africa begin their campaign in the World T20.
Ironically enough, this is not the first time AB has expressed ineterest of a comeback in international cricket after his shocking retirement three years back. It was just on the eve of the 2019 showpiece that Faf du Plessis, then the captain, got feelers from the master player.
“It was just a conversation, a phone call the night before the team got announced. It was just a ‘this is what I’m feeling’. I said to him, ‘I think it is too late but I will check in with the coach and the selectors the next morning to get their opinion on it as the squad was already announced or picked.’ But that day there was the announcement. When I spoke to the coach and the selectors the next day, they all agreed that it was way, way too late to change the team on 99.99,” du Plessis revealed towards the start of their World Cup campaign.
“I don’t think you should have to beg a guy to play for his country but I did make it clear that I thought he was making a bad decision, that he could help us win the World Cup, and he said he had made his decision and it was time to spend time with his family, and that was the end of that really,” said Otiis Gibson, the then coach - hardly mincing his words. South Africa eventually finished seventh in the showpiece.
The call for AB to return found a surprise backer in Yohan Blake, the sprint king from Jamaica and an ardent cricket fan. “Wow de Villiers is on a different level. South Africa come on you need this man,” Blake tweeted after the versatile South African’s swashbuckling innings.