Rained off in Southampton

It was during a phone call during the IPL that AB de Villiers expressed “how he was feeling” to his old mate Faf du Plessis. “I told him I thought it was too late but that I would check with Ottis Gibson and the selectors the following morning,” du Plessis confirmed after the washed out match against the West Indies in Southampton on Monday.

He did not confirm the precise details of the conversation so it is hard to justify the widespread, virtually universal interpretation that he had attempted to jump on the World Cup band wagon at somebody else’s expense just as it was about to leave. He has been called “selfish”, “arrogant” and “money-grabbing.” And worse on social media.

The words “attempt” and “bid” have been used repeatedly to describe the former captain’s move to join the World Cup squad. If, indeed, that was the case, it would have been selfish and arrogant. But if it was neither a bid nor an attempt but an ‘offer’ to make his services available, that would completely change his motivation. And should earn him a reprieve from the abuse being thrown at him.

Everybody fancies a long shot. That’s why we buy Lotto tickets. What if Rassie van der Dussen had broken a finger at the last minute, or Hashim Amla ruled himself out. What if du Plessis or Gibson were unsure of the middle order and had been wishing that de Villiers was available? What if either of those scenarios, or similar, had happened and de Villiers had not been approached because of his ‘retired’ status?

So he bought a ticket – on the understanding that it was a private transaction and that no harm could come of it. Unfortunately for everyone, but mostly for the greatest batsman of the modern era, it became public knowledge and he has been vilified. He was asking the question and the answer should have remained confidential.

The degree of judgemental disdain towards him is incongruous with his commitment to South African cricket for over a dozen years and his reputation as one of the most cherished and revered players ever to represent his country. Sure, the timing was naive and probably stupid, but whether it was selfish or not is far from certain. There is just as much chance that his reasoning was quite the opposite – selfless.

Du Plessis confirmed that he and de Villiers remain the best of friends and that “this incident has not changed that. This is a small thing for a friendship that goes way back.”

The anger towards de Villiers comes from the disappointment we all felt when he retired from international cricket.  It is unlikely there are many more people more deflated than me when he became unavailable for this World Cup, and I’m not suggesting for a second that he should have been selected at such late notice. But he doesn’t deserve the treatment he has received.

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