Cricket: AB de villiers’ struggles are worrying

2012-09-07 00:00

ANY momentous series win has its aftereffects. The one-day series, which concluded yesterday, has exposed South Africa’s inability to throttle opponents, but more worryingly, is the visible burden on AB de Villiers’ shoulders.

Very often, the best players are not always the best leaders. I have never played professional sport, and, having chosen this line of work, chances are I will never dive on any paddock or get rapped on the gloves for a living. Some of the best captains I played under were less talented, but their leadership skills more than made up for this.

De Villiers has and still has to scale batting heights mere mortals and first-class toilers can only dream of. He did have that horrible extended slump in 2006 and 2007, when he could not get his front pad out of the traffic or resist the urge of swishing outside off-stump. However, those were second and third-season blues. All great players have to trough before they peak. It’s the sports’ equivalent of a stress fracture test and those who have gone through it are well-documented.

De Villiers already sits on South Africa’s second-highest batting pedestal with his unbeaten 278 against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi. Hashim Amla may have overhauled it in different circumstances under different pressures, but it was a great innings nonetheless. With Jacques Kallis’s workload lessening as his twilight lengthens, De Villiers’ and Amla’s importance take on a greater scope. Amla may become South Africa’s greatest batsman, but there is no doubt De Villiers will be in his slipstream. But with De Villiers also holding the ODI, T20 and Test wicket-keeping gloves, it is an Everest he needs to deal with.

A good example is that of Alec Stewart, an old school stroke maker who had the gloves forced on him, while excellent wicketkeepers like Robert Russell and Steven Rhodes suffered because of the never-ending crusade to find balance, which saw solidity being sacrificed.

They might have straddled different eras and Stewart might have faced better attacks on spicier tracks, but De Villiers is the better batsman, and the only comparison that can be shared is their buccaneering batting, aesthetics and their ability to rise to the occasion. The past one-day series has showcased De Villiers’ immediate inability to handle three hot cakes at one time. He may be a master chef with his Kahuna knife, but the rubber gloves are diminishing that effect. The runs came early in his stint, but, as the pressure mounted, the runs dried up and the fast starts diminished.

Kumar Sangakkara is the classic example of a flower that blossomed with the loosening of the shackles of keeping. Sangakkara had an even better captaincy stint, and it is a trail that De Villiers should and must follow.

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