At the start of his cricket career, captaincy may have “definitely not been” one of AB de Villiers’ goals, but now that he has been appointed South Africa’s limited-overs captain, de Villiers is “prepared to give up everything to make it work”.
de Villiers takes over from Graeme Smith, who stepped down as the ODI and Twenty20 captain after the World Cup, and will be Smith’s deputy in Tests. In an interview with Reuters, de Villiers confessed that while he didn’t enjoy his previous stint as captain when he was at school, those misgivings were now behind him. “I captained my team at school (Afrikaans High School, Pretoria) for a few games but I didn’t enjoy it so much,” De Villiers said. “I was more focussed on my batting then and playing other sports like rugby.”
So what was it that brought about a change of heart? “Captaining South Africa was definitely not one of my goals,” de Villiers said, “but I started believing I could do it when Graeme Smith said I had a lot of leadership qualities. He said I should take more responsibility, act more like a leader and talk more in team meetings.”
“Henning Gericke [mental conditioning coach] and Corrie van Zyl [South Africa coach until the World Cup] said I could be a captain if I wanted to be one. That’s when I started to believe.”
de Villiers rated his predecessor Smith as the best captain he has played under and said he was very keen to make his captaincy stint work. “I truly believe I have qualities as a captain and I have to make up my own mind – captain the team my way, not how Hansie [Cronje] or Graeme did it. As a captain, I can’t make the same mistake twice. As a player, you can get away with that, but if the captain does that then it affects the whole team.”
He also said he respected the “passion, pride and fighting spirit”, that Gary Kirsten, South Africa’s newly-appointed national coach, showed during his playing days. “He’s shown the same qualities as a coach, especially at the World Cup, and I hope I’ll be able to help bring those into our side too. I’d like to be the same sort of captain, showing resilience.
“I think we’ll complement each other a lot, Gary’s just a wonderful coach and a top-class human being.”
Having played 66 Tests, 119 ODIs and 33 Twenty20 games for South Africa, de Villiers is not only one of the senior batsmen in the side, he is also keeps wickets in the limited-overs format. He acknowledged that with captaincy, the additional responsibility of keeping wickets will have to be re-examined. “We’re definitely going to have to discuss the wicketkeeping, although it doesn’t have to happen right now. But it is important to decide if there is too much on my shoulders.”
de Villiers said one of his key objectives as captain would be to address South Africa’s history of failing to succeed in multi-team tournaments. “Obviously, we have a history of not performing well in big events. We didn’t play badly overall, but went down when the pressure was on us again.
“But there’s a fresh look in the side now, which is good, and then it’s up to the leaders to work together with trust. But it’s an unbelievable responsibility.”