AB on the come­back trail

My pri­or­i­ties have changed over the years, says fans’ favourite swash­buck­ling bats­man

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - STUART HESS

AB de Vil­liers still has many goals he wants to achieve in Test cricket but none of those will be re­alised on the fields around Eng­land this win­ter.

Af­ter say­ing on Tues­day that he had with­drawn from the three-match Test se­ries in New Zealand in March, De Vil­liers con­firmed yesterday that he won’t play in the four Tests against Eng­land in July and Au­gust this year. Cricket South Africa had hoped that De Vil­liers would avail him­self for that se­ries, but De Vil­liers said at Su­perS­port Park that he sim­ply wasn’t ready. He also doesn’t want to play in the two Tests against Bangladesh in Septem­ber.

“It was not an easy de­ci­sion,” De Vil­liers said about with­draw­ing from the Eng­land Test se­ries. “I’m just not ready. My pri­or­i­ties have changed over the years. I’ve played for 12-odd years, fam­ily has changed, my roles in the teams have changed over the years. A lot of things played a role in this de­ci­sion. I still want to make that come­back, fin­ish on a high and some­how have a say in us get­ting back that No 1 rank­ing which we de­serve, given the way we’ve played in the last few months.”

De Vil­liers has tar­geted the se­ries against In­dia next sum­mer – the dates have not yet been con­firmed – for a re­turn to Test cricket. He stressed it would only be af­ter a spell of four-day do­mes­tic cricket for his fran­chise, the Ti­tans. “I’m very pre­pared to come back to the Ti­tans, score my runs, prove a point that I’m still good enough to make the Test side. It’s not like I’m go­ing to walk back into the (Test) team,” he said.

De Vil­liers would not look be­yond the four Tests against Aus­tralia next sum­mer, sched­uled for Fe­bru­ary/ March 2018. “My dream plan is to come back for the eight Tests and that’s all I can say for now. My fo­cus is on the 2019 World Cup. If I feel I’m phys­i­cally in­ca­pable of mak­ing it af­ter those two Test se­ries, I’ll call it a day then… but we’ll make that call when I get there.”

He will, as with other South Africans con­tracted to the event, play a por­tion of this year’s In­dian Pre­mier League be­fore re­turn­ing to South Africa to pre­pare for the three ODIs against Eng­land and then the ICC Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy which fol­lows in June. “The IPL has be­come al­most a part of the ICC sched­ule… there’s a lot of rea­sons why all of us couldn’t say ‘no’ to the IPL. I’m def­i­nitely not play­ing Big Bash, you won’t see me in any county game or any other T20 tour­na­ment… it’s about play­ing for South Africa and in the IPL. I’m very com­mit­ted to SA cricket,” he said.

De Vil­liers re­it­er­ated that he was not un­der any pres­sure from his new bat spon­sor – In­dian com­pany MRF – about com­mit­ting to all com­pe­ti­tions or every in­ter­na­tional match re­gard­less of the for­mat. That deal is un­der­stood to be over three years and is said to be worth in the re­gion of R28-mil­lion. “MRF want me to play as much cricket around the world in all for­mats. I still have to ne­go­ti­ate some de­tails with them.”

South Africa’s four-match Test se­ries against In­dia, cur­rently the five-day for­mat’s No1 team, will be widely viewed in that cricket-mad coun­try as giv­ing MRF, who also spon­sor De Vil­liers’s close friend, Vi­rat Kohli, a lot of air-time, with two of the most pop­u­lar cur­rent play­ers. De Vil­liers will play his first com­pet­i­tive match for nearly six months on Sun­day for the North­erns semi-pro­fes­sional side against Easterns in a 50-over game at Wil­low­moore Park.

He said he still “felt” the el­bow which re­quired surgery af­ter the Caribbean Pre­mier League last year but was rea­son­ably com­fort­able when he last had a net a week ago. “I can hit all my shots with the same power I used to. There are one or two shots where I feel (the el­bow), but I’m not go­ing to tell Sri Lanka.”

De Vil­liers hopes to be avail­able for the fi­nal T20 In­ter­na­tional against the Sri Lankans at New­lands next Wed­nes­day fol­low­ing which he will re­sume cap­taincy du­ties for the five-match ODI se­ries against the vis­i­tors start­ing on Jan­uary 28. PRETTY IN PINK: AB de Vil­liers of the Proteas dur­ing the Pink Day launch at Bid­vest Wan­der­ers. He is re­cov­er­ing from an el­bow in­jury but is likely to be avail­able for the T20 In­ter­na­tional against Sri Lanka at New­lands next Wed­nes­day.

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