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Cricket | South Africa

AB de Villiers © Gallo Images

FEATURE: Is AB the right man for captain?

First-time and novice airline passengers find the concept peculiar, if not frightening, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is captain Steven Brink – my co-pilot is Mnanawa Roderick and he will be flying us to Cairo today…”

“What?” asked someone in the row behind. “What’s wrong with the captain? Why isn’t he flying the plane?”

Sensibly enough, aviation law prevents one pilot from doing all the flying no matter how willing and capable they are. In the interests of passenger safety, both pilots need to be alert and functioning. (And it’s true about them having to eat different meals in case of food poisoning, but that’s a different story.)

Experienced long-haul pilots actually enjoy handing over the joystick at take-off and landing. They’ve done it so many times themselves that their job satisfaction comes from watching the new kid put the Boeing into the air or bring it down.

He is, of course, still there for a word of advice and, presumably, he’d take the controls in the event of an extreme electrical storm and his co-pilot was new to the job.

In New Zealand a year ago AB de Villiers’ ODI captaincy appeared ‘instinctive.' He admitted that he had made some mistakes but that he trusted his ‘gut feel.' He did things which were unconventional, to say the least.

In one game he made nine bowling changes in the first 23 overs. In another he dispensed with third man for a few balls. It was described as “extremely brave” and a “massive but calculated gamble.” Turns out he’d just forgotten to put a man there.

When he moved boundary fielders by a matter of metres in between deliveries it was assumed that a combination of his genius and ‘gut feel’ were speaking to him in ways too mysterious for the rest of us to comprehend, or that he’d spotted something about the batsmen that the rest of us were blind to.

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On Sunday at the Wanderers his ‘creativity’ and innovative captaincy style began to look a little more like confusion than configuration.

When Hashim Amla can no longer bite his lip you know there is most likely a problem. Troubled by his position at short fine leg, Amla suggested that he be moved back to the boundary while Rory Kleinveldt was bowling rib-height deliveries to the batsmen.

When Ryan McLaren was bowling full and straight, Graeme Smith suggested to the captain that he would be better employed on the boundary at long on rather than in the circle at mid on.

One can never be certain about the sequence of events on the field when viewed from afar, but there was an awful lot of glove-waving from De Villiers and what appeared to be much indecision and changing of the mind.

Shahid Afridi was, of course, an extreme electrical storm. The situation cried out for the captain to hand over the joystick to his predecessor, just for a couple of overs, to watch and learn as he attempted to bring calm to the situation.

He could have spent that time reviewing his options and plans for later in the innings and the ‘death’ overs. It is far from unprecedented. Shaun Pollock often handed over control of the field while he was bowling. It never undermined his captaincy.

De Villiers will make an excellent ODI captain but his anxiety to succeed alone is not helping him. Just because his sporting and artistic genius has allowed him to be brilliant at everything he turns his hand to, and to do it alone, that does not mean he can do the same with captaincy.

Do you think AB de Villiers is the right captain for SA's ODI team at the moment?


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