AB de Villiers had a lukewarm Indian Premier League, scoring just 216 runs from nine matches in a poor campaign for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but is not worried about his form ahead of the Champions Trophy at all.
De Villiers, the South Africa One-Day International captain, said he felt in form and confident that “there are some good scores to come” ahead of the team’s departure for England for a three-match ODI series in the lead up to the Champions Trophy.
“I am not worried, no,” he said. “I have had a few decent knocks, it was split up nicely across the tournament. I started off really well with a good knock (81 not out v Kings XI Punjab), then four-five games later had a decent one again (43 v Mumbai Indians). I never scored a hundred or anything like that, but I have always felt in form.
“I am really excited to move forward. I am meeting the ball as well as ever, and I think there are some good scores to come.”
De Villiers added that he wasn’t concerned about his batting position and was willing to bat anywhere depending on his team’s needs. “Looking at the last 12 months, it has been at No. 4, but having said that, I am very happy to move around,” he said. “Like I have always said, I am not a big stats man, so I won’t look at what my average is batting at a particular position. If it suits the team for me to bat at No. 5 certain times or at No. 3, I am very happy to discuss that with Russell (Domingo, the coach), and go with that.”
More than de Villiers’s form or batting position, the bigger concern for South Africa is handling the pressure that comes with playing a world event. South Africa won the ICC KnockOut Trophy (as the Champions Trophy was called) in 1998 but have underperformed in World Cups and Champions Trophies since then, succumbing to pressure in knockout matches almost as a rule.
De Villiers, though, was hopeful it would change in the upcoming tournament in England and Wales. “It is not something I constantly talk about, but it is something we haven’t done for a while,” he said on getting the monkey off the back. “We have won the ICC Champions Trophy before and it will be nice to repeat that. It has been a long time since that happened. We have been playing good cricket over the last few months, few years actually.
“From the disappointment of the 2015 World Cup, I think we have raised the bar, and have showed some really good results. We have the confidence and we want to win the trophy.”
South Africa injury update
“At the moment, only Faf is struggling with his right shoulder. He has seen one of Cricket South Africa’s shoulder specialists in Cape Town this week and the plan is in place to get him ready for the first ODI against England. We will have to assess when we get to the UK and take it from there. The only topical issue around injuries has been that of Dale Steyn. He picked up a very rare kind of injury. The surgery to the injury was a resounding success and the bone has healed. The challenge is to get the shoulder stabilised and strengthened and that is why there is a bit of a delay in getting him in to the park again. What the medical committee has decided is that we are not going to set an artificial deadline as to when he is going to be playing. Currently he is working with a panel of specialists in Cape Town.”
– Dr Mohammed Moosajee
Domingo, meanwhile, felt the short series against England would serve as crucial preparation for the Champions Trophy, especially for the players who weren’t involved in the IPL. “Every international game is important. It is also very essential in giving game-time leading into Champions Trophy and getting used to the conditions,” he said.
“There are some players who haven’t played cricket over the last couple of months. We’ll use those three ODIs to make sure everybody has some game-time leading on to the Champions Trophy. England are playing a good brand of cricket over the last year or two. They are not in our group (in the Champions Trophy) so they don’t concern us at the moment. Our focus is very much on the teams that are there in our group and making sure we do well to beat those sides.”
Domingo added that the workloads of the players have been managed well despite many key players featuring in the IPL, although not all of them played regularly for their respective franchises.
“Sometimes it can be a blessing when the guys are not playing, so their workload has been managed well,” he pointed out. “Hashim (Amla) obviously has been in good touch and is confident of a good performance. Faf (du Plessis) is fresh as he hasn’t played that many games. AB has had one of his more average IPLs and I am sure he has got a point to prove. It is in some ways a blessing because he will be as hungry as he has been ever been to perform. So, I am pretty happy with how everybody is at the moment.”
The first ODI between England and South Africa is on May 24 at Headingley, followed by games on May 27 (Rose Bowl, Southampton) and May 29 (Lord’s). South Africa are placed in Group B in the Champions Trophy along with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who they start their campaign against on June 3 at The Oval.