AB de Villiers' return to Tests will boost South Africa's batting, but Proteas risk disturbing team's balance

South Africa must be ready to take a risk with de Villiers back in the team. They will need to go back to the 7-4 (batsmen-bowlers) plan and rely on Elgar and Markram (assuming he replaces Kuhn), both of whom bowl decent spin.

Rohit Sankar, August 24, 2017

What's the fuss about?

Sometime on Wednesday evening AB de Villiers’ Twitter page had a new tweet pointing to some big announcement coming up in an hour from then and the social media site went frenzy with tweets asking him to not retire from Tests as it seemed like the obvious, long overdue announcement.

Twitteratti and fans waited with bated breaths as de Villiers took his time to publicize something which had been talked about in hushes and whispers at first, and then loud and clear, in the past few months. Even Graeme Smith, who oversaw his progress as a 20 year old in 2004 and Faf du Plessis, his schoolmate and long time buddy, went on to suggest that chances are next to none for AB’s return in Tests. And then came the big announcement, a 1 minute 46 second video, with de Villiers clean shaved, sporting a Puma sweatshirt and looking fresh as a cucumber. He started with the different comments on him that had gone around in the past few months and then stepped upon his future plan which took everyone by surprise. De Villiers decided to step down from ODI captaincy but also made himself available in all three formats from the mid of October (after the Bangladesh series). Two good decisions a day isn't something fans are used to hearing from Mr.360° but a change was due. "Following this recent break, I really do feel refreshed and revived. I want to get back on the field and I have assured the national selectors that I'll be available for selection in all three formats of the game during the coming season. There is plenty of hard work ahead in the nets and I must prepare properly. But I'll be ready to play, if required, from the middle of October onwards”, his video went on to state.

What it means to the Test team?

With de Villiers available for selection, the Test team is once again set to undergo changes when India tour late in the year. The current batting line-up consists of Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla, the skipper, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock.

File image of AB de Villiers. Reuters

File image of AB de Villiers. Reuters

But with de Villiers entering the fray, South Africa need to reshuffle their batting line-up. Aiden Markram, that young U-19 star, who is now 22, is all set to replace Heino Kuhn at the top of sources are to be believed and rightly so.

The first four spots are set in stone and de Villiers cannot nudge any of them out and the same goes with Quinton de Kock, which means that the only way he can come back is by replacing Temba Bavuma or Chris Morris.

Bavuma, with an average at 31.60 after 24 Tests with just one hundred under his belt, seems like an underacheiver at first glance. But the short statured Lions batsman has been a terrific firefighter for the Proteas in the recent past. He has given it his all in the field and with willow in hand has often arrested a middle-order collapse.

What happens to the team balance?

What all this eventually mean is that the only spot left open is Chris Morris’ at 7. The hard hitting all-rounder has been good in bursts but hasn't done enough to cement down his spot.

But replacing Morris with de Villiers means that South Africa are stuck with four bowlers and Elgar’s innocuous left-arm spin. If one of their bowlers walk off, Faf du Plessis is bound to have a terrible headache. Not to aggrevate the conundrum, but South African pacers have a new-found habit of walking off the ground on the first day of Tests - Steyn at Perth and Philander in England.

With Jacques Kallis lending the team unmatchable stability and balance for over a decade, South Africa have been used to the luxuries and although they tried stop-gap options with Chris Morris, Ryan McLaren, JP Duminy and Vernon Philander, none of them revelled in both departments.

This eventually means that South Africa must be ready to take a risk with de Villiers back in the team. They will need to go back to the 7-4 (batsmen-bowlers) plan and rely on Elgar and Markram (assuming he replaces Kuhn), both of whom bowl decent spin.

What it actually implies?

South African Test team had a disastrous England tour where they sorely missed the experience and batsmanship of AB de Villiers. With India and Australia set to tour them in coming months, South Africa needed their stalwart cricketer to give them a final confirmation regarding his availability in Tests.

Although his retirement was the expected announcement, de Villiers surprised one and all with his return to the longer format and if he can stay put for a couple more years, mentor some of the younger talent coming through and win matches for his country, this self-enforced selfish break will soon be a distant memory.

Updated Date: Aug 24, 2017

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