The reality check the four-day Test gave Zimbabwe has already been analysed and the converse must be asked. Did South Africa really benefit from dominating an inferior opposition a week before the biggest series they have played in six months?
Logic would say no, because South Africa’s previous assignment was a walkover against Bangladesh more than two months ago, before which they lost in England and had their batting woefully exposed. Their upcoming matches are three Tests against India, and four against Australia. But being underprepared is not a status South Africa want to accept, especially with India little more than a week away.
“Our preparation was to make sure we get through this Test match, [with a] bit of workload and get guys into form. I’m happy with [the] workload. All our batsmen had time in the middle and all the bowlers had a chance to shine,” AB de Villiers, South Africa’s stand-in captain said.
De Villiers himself was the biggest beneficiary of this match, as it marked his comeback to the side after an absence of 23 months. And what a comeback it was. Not only did he slot in at No.4, but he was asked to stand in as captain because Faf du Plessis had not recovered from an illness. Then, he was called upon to keep wicket when Quinton de Kock strained his hamstring. De Villiers admitted he “got a bit of a fright,” when he was approached to lead but was happy to take on all three jobs.
“It was very enjoyable in the end. It all happened at the same time. I love taking responsibility for the team and it went very well,” he said.
However, there is no real clarity on how de Villiers will fit into the starting XI if everyone is fit and available. The man himself does not even know. “Faf will take over and then there is a bit of a selection headache. All the guys seem to be in good form,” he said. “I am expecting to bat No. 4 if I do play. If not, then I will carry drinks.”
What de Villiers would like not to do is don the gloves again and, all things being equal, he should not have to. De Kock’s injury was described as “low-grade,” and team management are “confident,” he will recover for the first Test against India. If de Kock is not fit, South Africa will have to turn to the domestic structures to seek a reserve wicketkeeper, and would likely choose between Heinrich Klaasen and Rudi Second. Or they may ask de Villiers to step in as emergency cover.
And if they do, what will he say?
“Ideally I would not like to keep and just focus on my batting. Keeping tends to get to me after a while. So it’s a no, but it’s up for discussion.”