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Why cricket’s superman AB de Villiers is at gunpoint after Champions Trophy exit

South Africa’s eight-wicket loss against India in a crunch ICC Champions Trophy 2017 match at The Oval on Sunday hints that all is not well with AB de Villiers’ captaincy

icc champions trophy 2017 Updated: Jun 12, 2017 19:50 IST
Soumitra Bose
AB de Villiers could not score big during South Africa’s must-win match against India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 on Sunday.
AB de Villiers could not score big during South Africa’s must-win match against India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 on Sunday.(AFP)

Every time South Africa turn up on a cricket field, they look like the quintessential squad where team spirit and conviction run deep. The eight-wicket trouncing at the hands of India in a must-win Group B Champions Trophy match at the Oval on Sunday seems to have destroyed the peace in the Proteas dressing room.

Skipper AB de Villiers seems to be a targeted man. Direct questions from the South African press like, “should you remain captain?,” and “does South Africa need radical changes?” clearly hint that all is not well with the South Africans and de Villiers’s future as ODI skipper is already facing a media trial.

Read | ‘Virat Kohli’s positive vibe rubbed on India, AB De Villiers couldn’t do that’

De Villiers is most certainly a disturbed man. Faf du Plessis publicly castigating the team’s performance in the Champions Trophy and the series against England before that is an indication that the Proteas are in turmoil.

Losing big games, now part of South Africa’s unfortunate ‘tradition’, may indicate mental frailties of a team but the reasons behind this may be more than what meet the eye.

Watch | India vs South Africa, ICC Champions Trophy 2017, match video highlights

UGLY ATTACK

The constant attack on de Villiers, one of South Africa’s greatest cricketers ever, by a section of what seems like a motivated camp of journalists and players, is quite startling and ugly.

Was de Villiers’s run out deliberate then?

While Cricket South Africa can summon Sherlock Holmes to investigate, the lack of communication between de Villiers and the experienced du Plessis was palpable, probably an indication of the duo’s current relationship. Du Plessis currently leads South Africa in both Tests and T20s.

Read | India vs South Africa: Soft dismissals cost us the match, says AB de Villiers

Du Plessis said South Africa didn’t deserve to be in the Champions Trophy semis. While he sounded crestfallen for getting de Villiers run out at a crucial juncture of the match against India, du Plessis slammed the team’s “inconsistency” in recent times, an indirect attack on de Villiers’s ability to lead the team.

Former skipper Graeme Smith has rubbed salt into South Africa (read de Villiers’s) wound.

In his column for the ICC, Smith has written, “The side have been missing that spark, or that intensity to their play that characterises South Africa cricket. It’s easy at times, such as these, to point to a variety of reasons as to why the performances haven’t come at yet another major tournament, but for me it’s a relatively simple equation.

“The positivity to our play and the energy that we’ve come to expect from this group of players just hasn’t been there.”

Former South African captain Kepler Wessels told SuperSport that de Villiers should no longer continue as ODI captain. “The current situation with AB de Villiers playing certain matches, not playing other matches... the fact of the matter is it’s not working,” Wessels said.

“If he’s going to go down that road where he doesn’t want to play some games, he wants to play other games, he’s coming in and out of the squad the whole time, then he can’t be captain. It’s simple as that,” he added, referring to de Villiers’ recent decision not to make himself available for all South Africa’s international fixtures.

Read | ICC Champions Trophy: South Africa missing spark in game, says Graeme Smith

NOT DEFENSIVE

Just like his batting, de Villiers has not been defensive on questions about his future as ODI captain.

Saying that “he was a good captain”, de Villiers saw him leading South Africa in the 2019 ICC World Cup, also in the UK.

A ‘hurt” de Villiers believed he had in him to take South Africa forward.

“I can take us to win a World Cup, I believe. And I believed the same thing over here in this tournament and the last one, but that’s what I believe. I love doing it.

“Not a lot of people believe me but I feel it’s pretty close (to winning an ICC event). I don’t think it feels far away. It’s very difficult to say that after a performance like this, but that’s what I believe in my heart.

“I believe we’re very close as a unit. There’s more than enough talent, and we’ve just got to get it right when it matters most.”

Saying is not believing, especially when history is against you.

De Villiers may be fast losing his grip on the team. When a team loses eight wickets for just 51 runs in a big game at the world stage, it betrays all the team huddle and show of unity.