AB de Villiers might yet make an international comeback, at least in the T20 format, but when he retired from the game in May 2018, it left his captain Faf du Plessis wondering “how do we move forward” even as he said he respected his friend’s decision and “left it there”. Du Plessis, speaking to R Ashwin on the latter’s YouTube programme DRS with Ash, also said resigning from the South Africa captaincy more recently was “the hardest thing to do”, given how immensely he enjoys leading cricket teams.
“I have had my turn, and to be honest, I am tired,” de Villiers said as he bid adieu to the national team, and though the champion batsman apparently wanted a recall for the 2019 50-over World Cup and was even in line for a return for the now-postponed 2020 T20 World Cup, as far as du Plessis is concerned, it was not for him to try and convince his friend to decide one way or other.
“When AB left, it was really tough for me, because I depended a lot on him, as a friend, and obviously as the best player in the team; we needed his skills,” du Plessis told Ashwin. “So that conversation was… when he said that to me, said he was done, he was finished with international cricket, as a friend, my first instinct was ‘I’m here for you, and I’ll support you, if you feel like you’re at the end of your career and you don’t want to do it anymore, then that’s okay – I support that decision 100%’.
“As a captain, I was like (clenches his teeth and makes a face) – ‘how do we move forward without AB, how do we get the same performances?’ But the friend in me trumped the captain in me. And I just said, ‘we’re going to miss you, are you sure?’ He was like, ‘yeah, I am 100% sure, I don’t want to play international cricket anymore. I don’t have the drive to do it anymore. So I am stopping.’
“I respected that immediately and left it there. I never ever after that tried to convince him again, because I respected what he said. Even at times when we desperately needed him.”
“The last year of international cricket for me was tough, because I carried a lot of what was going through the team’s performances on my own shoulders, and I didn’t want to show that to anyone, because in my own head, I am the captain, I had to make sure I stay strong for the team”
It has been a lean time for South Africa in the recent past. In Tests, after beating Pakistan 3-0 at home in 2018-19, they were clean swept at home by Sri Lanka in a two-Test series, then lost 3-0 away in India, and were beaten 3-1 by England at home. Du Plessis stood down from the leadership role in February this year, after Quinton de Kock had already been named ODI captain.
“That for me was the hardest thing to do myself, purely because I’ve believed that being a leader is something that was part of my purpose. And I’ve always enjoyed captaining [more] than I have enjoyed playing. I think I am a good player, but I think I really come to the party when it comes to captaining,” he said. “That’s when I really love playing cricket. That’s what puts a smile on my face.”
“And the last year of international cricket for me was tough, because I carried a lot of what was going through the team’s performances on my own shoulders, and I didn’t want to show that to anyone, because in my own head, I am the captain, I had to make sure I stay strong for the team, I don’t show weakness towards the team.
“That was tough, because I didn’t have a lot of guys to speak to about it, a lot of experienced guys around me.”
In a year of very little cricket courtesy the Covid-19 pandemic, du Plessis has played just one representative game – for Titans in the domestic One-Day Cup – since South Africa lost a three-match T20I series at home against Australia 2-1 in February. Now, though, he has a chance to get his game going again with Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, which will start September 19 in Abu Dhabi, even as de Villiers turns out for Royal Challengers Bangalore.