Published On: Mon, May 28th, 2018

De Villiers' decision shocked me – SA coach Gibson

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News of AB de Villiers’ retirement came as a “shock” to South Africa’s coach Ottis Gibson, who still believes that he has enough time to plan for the World Cup without the marquee batsman. The tournament is 12 months and 23 ODIs away for South Africa and Gibson has opened the door to all South Africa’s franchise cricketers to try and stake a claim in the national squad.

“The announcement came as a shock to me. He called me the morning before he made the announcement to tell me what he was planning to do. We had a long conversation around, ‘are you sure you are doing the right thing?’ He reckons that he is. He has spoken with the people who are close to him and he reckons he is tired,” Gibson said.

“Of course, it’s disappointing. He is one of the best players in the world. He could have made a huge difference in the World Cup and he knows that. Yes, it’s disappointing for the country and for world cricket. But it gives an opportunity for somebody to put their hand up. There is a big space somebody can fill. If I was a young cricketer playing franchise cricket in the country and I saw that there was a position at No.4, I would be doing everything I can to make sure that position is mine.”

While Gibson did not want to name too many possible candidates, he mentioned Aiden Markram, who captained in five of the six ODIs against India last summer, and Dean Elgar, who has scored three fifties in his last three List A games for Surrey, as possibilities.

Elgar is a particularly interesting case because he has only played six ODIs for South Africa, and none since late 2015, but has long insisted he does not want to be boxed in as a long-format player and his time in the UK could put him ahead of the queue. “When it comes to picking a team for the World Cup, we will pick guys that we believe can go and perform in that set of conditions. Dean playing country cricket puts himself in the picture,” Gibson said.

Perhaps most importantly, with a player like Elgar, Gibson may not need to see as much of him as with a less experienced player. At least, that is what Gibson explained when he discussed whether Vernon Philander, who has played 30 ODIs and last appeared in coloured clothing mid-2015, may also be considered. “With experienced players like Vern – we know what he can do. If we are widening the pool, we don’t need to see him immediately. Vernon doesn’t need to be playing every game leading up to the World Cup to come into the conversation,” Gibson said.

Instead, players like Philander and Elgar and even Dale Steyn, who is aiming to make his comeback from a heel injury for Hampshire next month, may only feature in ODIs early next year, when South Africa play their last 10 matches ahead of the World Cup, according to Gibson.

Steyn’s name has popped up again, even though he seemed to have only an outside chance of playing at the World Cup, after Morne Morkel’s retirement. While a Test return might be a higher priority for Steyn, because he only needs three wickets to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading Test wicket-taker, Gibson has brought his name into the white-ball conversation.

“Dale Steyn could come into the World Cup, if he gets fit. We don’t need to see him now,” Gibson said. “Dale is very passionate about playing for South Africa. All the conversations I have had with him, he just wants to get back on the park and play for South Africa. When retirement comes, who knows? If he comes back and he plays well for a few games and he thinks I am satisfied – because he has been injured for a long time – therefore he wouldn’t want to retire having been injured. Maybe he wants to play a couple of games, get back on the park so he can get the sort of send-off he deserves.”

While there are no current plans for a similar celebration for de Villiers, Gibson also suggested that may happen, though he does not know in what form. “For the country, it being AB, one of the best players in the country, it would have been nice for us to give him the sort of send off that we gave to Morne Morkel when he made his decision. Hopefully that can still happen,” Gibson said.

Some hopeful supporters may see that as a suggestion de Villiers would have a last hurrah, even if only for his franchise, Titans.

De Villiers said in his retirement video that he would still like to make himself available for domestic cricket but Gibson cannot concern himself further with that. “When you retire, you retire, You don’t still say I might still try and play again here and there. It seems to me like the announcement leaves a few things hanging, like he might still change his mind later on but I can’t really focus on that,” Gibson said.

Asked whether he tried to talk de Villiers out of retiring, Gibson revealed that he suggested de Villiers continue playing ODIs only until the World Cup, especially as he appeared to be on top of his game, but respected that the decision to walk away had already been taken.

“It seemed to me and to everybody watching that he was enjoying his cricket when he came back. When I first came, he was on a break. We saw him in the IPL taking Spiderman catches and looking like he is enjoying his cricket. That’s why I said it was a shock. I did sort of say, ‘What about giving away Test cricket and still playing one-day cricket with the World Cup coming up?’ and he said he spoke about it with all the people he needed to speak to and that is the decision he has come to,” Gibson said. “Once he has made that decision, there is no point in me trying to get him to change his mind. He wouldn’t have made the decision lightly. I don’t think there is anything I could say that would make him change his mind and once that decision is made then I need to try and get the group together and move on. Sport moves on very quickly.”

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