At all costs, AB de Villiers wants to avoid being accused of “high treason” for a second time, so he’s cautious about giving a straight answer when asked whether he will play for the Proteas in the T20 Cricket World Cup in Australia this year, even if he is desperate to tackle the challenge with “everything I have”.
“I’m hesitant about giving a definitive answer because, in the past, I’ve been hurt so much and I’ve been burnt,” De Villiers told City Press’ sister publication, Rapport, earlier this week.
The former Proteas captain said he was afraid that, if something came up that could prevent him from playing in the tournament, “then people will think I’ve turned my back on our country again”.
De Villiers, who, according to various metrics, is one of the best batsmen in the world so far, is also wary about creating the impression that he can dictate terms to the Proteas: “I can’t just walk into the team. Like every other player, I have to work for it and I have to earn my spot in the team. It hurt me a great deal when people thought I assumed there was a spot for me in the team [last year].”
He was referring to the news that emerged during last year’s Cricket World Cup in England about claims that he had only made himself available to the then captain and coach, Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson, just before the tournament. However, it is clear that De Villiers wants to put his retirement from international cricket on ice.
“I feel available and I will give it a go with everything in me, but I don’t want special treatment.”
But he says the tournament, which is scheduled for October and November, may well be affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
“I can’t see six months into the future. If the tournament is postponed to next year, then a whole bunch of other things change as well,” he said.
De Villiers was speaking to Rapport from his home in Pretoria via Skype, where his family has been in isolation since three days before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lockdown announcement.
He is full of praise for the work Mark Boucher, his former team-mate, is doing as the Proteas coach. He said he could write a book about the impact Boucher has had on him – not just on his cricket, but on his life.
When asked about donning the Protea green again, De Villiers said he would only do it if he felt his game was on the same level as it was in 2015.
“I have always loved our country and cricket. At the moment, I feel available, but I don’t know what state my body will be in or whether I will be healthy at the time.”
He said that, to answer that question, he would have to do some introspection.
“I have always been genuine with myself, so I’m going to check in with myself. If I am 100% as good as I want to be, I will be available. But if I’m not, I’m not going to open myself up for that because I’m not the kind of person who does something at 80%,” said De Villiers.
He repeatedly emphasised that whether he would be included in the Proteas was not up to him.
“I will have to do the trials and show Bouchie [the coach] that I’m good enough. If they pick me, it has to be because I’m really better than the guy next to me. If I even touch the issue of me being available for the World Cup, it already feels to me like that’s arrogant. I’d be half insinuating that, ‘hey, I am back and I’m just going to walk into the team’.
“I’ve never been the kind of person who felt I should get exactly what I want. I’m really afraid of saying ‘yes, I’m available now’ and then, in six months, my whole life has changed as a result of this virus, or other uncertainties about the world, and then I have to withdraw. And then there will be a lot of people who are angry at me again.”
Like many international sport stars, he is also worried about being a bit rusty: “Even if [the tournament] isn’t postponed, I last played cricket in January and I may not be able to play for the next three months,” said De Villiers.
“My situation may change and I may get to a point where I have to tell Boucher that I was interested and that I still really want to play a role, but that I won’t be able to play. Then I’d be afraid I had created a false hope beforehand.”
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