The absurdity of AB de Villiers’s departure from the Bangladesh capital this week after playing just two T20 matches did not detract from the amusement of the situation – it added to it.
As the world’s wealthiest cricketers work out how best to balance their desire to play international cricket with the demands of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and other lucrative domestic leagues, the first commitment to set aside is usually to T20 internationals. It is certainly the lowest priority for De Villiers, but there he was, opening the batting.
Having ended his run of 98 consecutive Test matches since his debut a decade ago by opting for paternity leave during the brace of five-dayers at the end of the month, the genius batsman was really only in the country to captain the one-day international (ODI) side in a three-match series that begins today (Friday). He was merely using the T20s as a warm-up, having picked up nothing heavier than a fishing rod and a new baby-stroller for more than a month.
Then the International Cricket Council (ICC) stepped in, wagging an oversized finger.
“Hold on a minute,” they said. “You’re banned for a game because, for the second time in 12 months, your bowlers were unable to complete their 50 overs in the designated three-and-a-half hours.”
It is not a trivial matter. Apart from the revenue gained by adhering to the agreed timetable, and lost if not, there is the issue of sufficient recovery time for players between innings and even the ugly possibility of gamesmanship in the event of imminent inclement weather.
So captains, rightly, are under strict instruction to chivvy their players along – and are punished if they are unsuccessful.
What makes De Villiers’s punishment different is that the ICC waited for him to travel to Bangladesh, and even to play the two T20 games, before announcing that he would not be permitted to play in the first game of the series.
The captain’s second crime this year was committed in the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand, almost four months ago. If the Proteas had won that epic contest, then De Villiers would have been banned for the final. But it took the game’s global governing body until this week to make news of his ban public – and the men in charge harrumph and complain that criticism of them is unfair.
The team management’s decision to send their captain home, rather than play him in the second and third matches, may be passed off as rest, but it is not – it is a protest, and a justifiable one. The ICC has good reason to pretend that series like this one have genuine meaning and context – they need to keep their jobs, after all.
But, since the dissolution of the Future Tours Programme, they do not mean very much at all, other than to those involved in the game in Bangladesh and to the millions of genuine, wonderful people there who follow it. By removing the world’s best player from the series, Cricket South Africa has raised its middle finger to the ICC.
Hashim Amla will take over the leadership while De Villiers “rests”, though it is questionable whether he, too, would even have been there had he been bought at the IPL auction.
Dale Steyn will only be in the country until the Tests to ensure the intersquad PlayStation and Nintendo competitions are fairly run, and it won’t be long before Faf du Plessis joins all the other senior players in taking a game or two off.
It has long been established that the policy of rest and rotation is beneficial more to the mind than the body, and team manager Mohammed Moosajee referred once again this week to the “heavy playing schedule” the team has this year.
In fact, there are only three ODIs and two T20s against New Zealand next month and then nothing (yet) in September and October, before the undoubtedly taxing prospect of back-to-back full series against India (away) and England from November to January.
There is no recognition from Moosajee, or anyone else at CSA, of the irony of referring to rest with so much time until the big stuff really kicks off. And perhaps there shouldn’t be. They have been studying the effects and importance of not playing for more than a decade and a half and, frankly, what does it matter what anyone else thinks? Provided they get it right.
Meanwhile, Gauteng leg spinner Eddie Lieie has added a beaming smile to the squad and, after an impressive T20 debut, was happily added to the ODI squad. He will find it hard work against the Bangla top order on slow, unhelpful pitches in Dhaka and Chittagong, but that is exactly what the Proteas need to hope for from this tour – hard work.