Proteas: Should De Villiers be overlooked now?

AB de Villiers (Getty)
AB de Villiers (Getty)

The format may be slightly different, but South Africa’s triumph in the one-day international series against Australia almost undoubtedly deepens the dilemma over whether long-time absentee AB de Villiers should be reinfused to their not unrelated Twenty20 plans.

Whatever happens in the dead-rubber closing ODI against the Aussies at Potchefstroom on Saturday (10:00), Quinton de Kock’s increasingly new-look side have already ensured a satisfying series victory over a full-strength - apart from injured Glenn Maxwell - Aussie crew.

The bigger focus for the next few months is T20, given the Twenty20 World Cup Down Under in October, but this is still white-ball cricket and the events of the last few days suggest that the Proteas are headed back in the correct general direction again after a tempestuous summer.

South Africa will reinfuse one veteran batsman in the form of Faf du Plessis, the 35-year-old former captain, for the three-match ODI series in India very shortly, and his experience – though form has been a significant bugbear for him this season – should aid the cause in those uniquely taxing conditions.

If he fares well against India, Du Plessis will look an altogether more secure factor for the run-up period to the T20 World Cup; he has stayed loyal to the national cause at all levels despite some extremely challenging times for widespread reasons in recent months.

But where does all this leave De Villiers, 36, who has not played any form of international cricket since early April 2018?

It is common knowledge that he is keen on a last hurrah – including some lead-up activity – at the global tournament early next season, and national coach Mark Boucher has given De Villiers and one or two other currently unavailable Proteas players a deadline of June 1 (when they are due to play Sri Lanka away in both limited-overs formats) to come back on board for potential selection.

But squeezing De Villiers back in – for all his undoubted box-office appeal and enormously proven reputation – raises the question more burningly now of whether any “special treatment” for him to have that swansong in Australia would have damaging undercurrents within the current group of SA limited-overs players.

De Kock and company have reason, after all, to feel collectively emboldened by downing the Aussies in the ODI series (the wins at both Paarl and Bloemfontein were impressively cool and clinical) and if they are suitably competitive all over again against India it will confirm the sense of renaissance … with some fresh customers quite central to the trend.

Certainly a healthy, big squeeze is beginning to occur, something that was less obvious earlier in the season, for batting positions in the SA white-ball set-up as a whole.

As things stand, for example, Wednesday’s Mangaung Oval sensation, unbeaten century-maker Janneman Malan, isn’t even in the party to travel to India, though he may yet earn the nod either as back-up or more specific replacement for Temba Bavuma, who has still been struggling with a hamstring issue.

The pretty consistent Rassie van der Dussen is also back in the squad for the next trip after a rest against Australia, so a collective frontline batting stock of De Kock, Bavuma, Malan, Du Plessis, Van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller and rookie Kyle Verreynne - who made a promising international debut at Paarl - suddenly looks a decent cupboard of choices.

Purely on paper, De Villiers over several of the stroke-players on that list remains a relative no-brainer, but if that group continue to head rosily northward performance-wise (Aiden Markram is also back playing domestically after injury), just how wise and morally acceptable would it be to let the superstar leapfrog one of the emerging, eager “kids” for a World Cup berth?

How would it go down in the camp, if, indeed, it comes down to De Villiers elbowing out on a short-term basis one of the rising, more future-geared batsmen?

That could be something for Boucher and company to chew on with an increasing feeling of complexity.

Factors that could swing it will include how De Villiers fares in the looming next edition of the Indian Premier League for Royal Challengers Bangalore - he has been on a competitive break since late January, after Big Bash League obligations - and the Proteas’ ongoing fortunes without him, as things stand …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing ...

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