AB de Villiers has denied that his leadership role may be on the line if South Africa fail to progress out of the first round of the Champions Trophy. After having lost to Pakistan in a rain-ruined encounter earlier in the week, South Africa must now beat India on Sunday to make the semi-finals.
The spotlight fell on de Villiers in the aftermath of the Pakistan game because of the tactics he employed. With the rain threat evident days before the match de Villiers chose to bat first, though it is widely accepted that chasing teams have the advantage in shortened matches. South Africa totalled a below-par 219 for 8. In defense of that, de Villiers took off his most dangerous bowler, Morne Morkel – the only bowler to dismiss any of the Pakistan batsmen – and replaced him with the expensive Wayne Parnell to significantly reduce South Africa’s chances of being on the right side of a Duckworth-Lewis-Stern calculation.
Later, de Villiers admitted that had he “known it would only be 27 overs, I would have attacked a lot more on the field”.
De Villiers did not attend Wednesday’s post-match press conference so he could not be asked about whether forecasts in the lead-up to the match had been studied, but he defended himself in the lead-up to Sunday’s game. “I think my captaincy is pretty good. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every second out there. We lost the last game, so that’s never ideal for a captain, he said. “But I understand what I’m trying to do out there. I’m really enjoying the captaincy. I think I make some good calls.”
But it is exactly those calls that have been questioned repeatedly, especially in the light of de Villiers’ captaincy record in other formats.
After taking over both the ODI and T20 teams following Graeme Smith’s stepping down, after the 2011 World Cup, de Villiers initially struggled to get the hang of handling the side and was relieved of the wicketkeeping duties to concentrate on batting and captaincy. In February 2013, he handed the T20 reins over to Faf du Plessis but a year later, made known his desire to captain the Test side, when Smith retired. Hashim Amla got the job but stayed in it for only 18 months before resigning in the middle of a home series against England in early 2016. De Villiers took over temporarily and was then given the post permanently but injury prevented him from ever playing as the full-time captain. He stood down last last year, after du Plessis won series against New Zealand at home and Australia away. Du Plessis was then confirmed Test captain, with de Villiers only leading the one-day side.
Of all South Africa’s ODI captains who have led in more than 10 matches, de Villiers is only more successful than Kepler Wessels. Under de Villiers, South Africa have won 59 out of 102 matches (58%), under Wessels 38.5%. By contrast, Shaun Pollock’s team won 64.1% of matches they played and Graeme Smith’s, 61.7%.
Du Plessis has only captained the ODI side in nine matches, but has lost just once. Among his wins was a 5-0 whitewash over Australia last October and public opinion has swung towards du Plessis taking over in all formats. De Villiers, though, is determined to stay on even if he is being written off. “The pencil’s in your hand, and I unfortunately can’t control what you’re going to write but in my mind I’m a good captain,” de Villiers said. “Unfortunately it’s going to come down to the result again tomorrow – hopefully it will be a good one.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.