Should CSA make ‘pick my tours’ POLICY?

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

Cape Town – It might (I know, long shot) coax a change of heart by AB de Villiers.

But it could, likelier, also have a rejuvenating effect on a faltering, but still near-indispensable Hashim Amla.

“It” would be official agreement struck through Cricket South Africa - only in certain elite instances, mind - that key, long-serving Proteas players unashamedly identify which tours or series they are willing to participate in, for the sake of prolonging their international careers for as long as possible.

On that score, I’d like to appeal for the liberty of a personal U-turn, and even at the risk of being branded a hypocrite.

Once a devotee - something expressed previously with conviction on Sport24 - of the school of thought that no individual should have the luxury of “picking and choosing” international tours, portions of them or even specific matches, I have gradually changed my mind.

It is prompted in no small measure by the sheer size of the void the retirement of De Villiers left in the Proteas camp … plus its detrimental effect on the game more globally, as the more traditional forms of the game (Tests, one-day internationals) simply surrender another premier-quality, bums-on-seats figure to the ever-swelling, naturally seductive Twenty20 franchise circuit while still close to the peak of his powers.

Yes, De Villiers has said he still intends turning out for the Titans, when he can, domestically this summer -- a reasonably novel and pleasing event for a player in his position but also one that may simply deepen the sadness, as he probably gets stuck lustily into lower-tier attacks, of his absence from the national set-up.

The Sri Lankan tour, in all its formats, only confirmed how enormously the 34-year-old is missed in the batting line-up, both for his natural ability and the unique manner he can “take a game away” from the opposition – or at very least shift momentum - in a few dramatic salvoes.

There is no readymade replacement for him right now, as the up-and-coming batting arsenal is also shrouded in some uncertainty and a few more established players have been misfiring as well.

Already, South Africa’s chances of winning that elusive World Cup for the first time next year look even more tenuous, for his absence.

Remember that, as if to confirm his ongoing aptitude against fellow-heavyweight nations, De Villiers had put a massive personal stamp on the drought-breaking, home 3-1 Test series triumph over Australia late last season, and just before his shock exit from the international fold.

That brilliant century under difficult circumstances at Port Elizabeth, for example, was a genuine series tide-shifter, and he somehow even looked a younger, revitalised man again over those memorable - though often controversy-stained, too - few weeks.

With his 114 Tests (8 765 runs) and 228 ODIs (9 577 runs), De Villiers had given indisputably yeoman service to South Africa, spanning some 14 years.

Now a father and understandably weary of so much globetrotting, his retirement bombshell included admission, if I absorbed it correctly, that he realised it was impolitic to “pick and choose” tours or series.

In a roundabout way, he seemed to be saying, by extension, that he was really left no choice but to quit the international arena, lock, stock and barrel.

But should it even be impolitic, in this extraordinary cricketing age, with so many balls always in the air, itinerary- and obligation-wise?

Is there not a case for arguing that, rather than see too many blue-chip players (and certainly not just in South Africa) quit their national causes while still extremely productive and valuable as marketable entities, formal exceptions should instead be made to the unwritten “all or nothing” principle?

By detailed discussion within the various Boards - and healthy communication with yeoman-serving players themselves - is there not room for approval, at a certain career juncture, for specific individuals to be allowed to … well, yes, pick and choose to a healthy degree their series/tours for, say, an upcoming cricket year?

Players are so often “rotated” within national squads anyway: would there really be any harm in a select handful of exceptionally decorated players earning the formal right from their national governing body to identify some clearly-defined “available” and “unavailable” periods, as a career-prolonging tool?

Perhaps such a policy might have seen (or, psst, even see?) someone like De Villiers find a way clear, for example, to extend his career to the vital matter of next year’s World Cup in the United Kingdom.

Imagine the potential benefits, too, to someone like Amla, who currently looks a slightly jaded figure, quite possibly a victim of the relentless globetrotting treadmill.

Remember that, like De Villiers, the now 35-year-old has increasing family responsibilities and desires and yet - no doubt also mindful of the perceived undesirability of “choosing” challenges for the Proteas - keeps finding himself ceaselessly on planes and in the midst of SA squads playing either home or abroad.

The great right-hander also boasts almost a decade and a half of almost uninterrupted service to his country.

He could do with some sort of freshening steps, in longer-term interests for the Proteas, and if he had the liberty of being able to sit out certain, mutually approved undertakings, could just rekindle his premier-tier competitive juices and form at a time when they are worryingly waning.

Can “pick and choose” actually be OK?

It is a debate CSA might do well to at least start entertaining …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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