I felt like I need to start prioritising what I want to achieve in my career, where I want to go, and what I feel motivated about, said de Villiers. © Getty Images

I felt like I need to start prioritising what I want to achieve in my career, where I want to go, and what I feel motivated about, said de Villiers. © Getty Images

AB de Villiers said on Wednesday (January 18) that he had made himself unavailable for South Africa’s four-Test series in England in July-August and the two-Test series against Bangladesh at home in September-October, in addition to the Tests against New Zealand this year.

His plan is to return to the format for the home series against India and Australia, but made it clear that a Test comeback wasn’t something he could commit to at the moment.

However, de Villiers reiterated that he wasn’t thinking about retirement now either. “I do still have goals and that’s why I didn’t want to make any silly statements about retiring out of Test cricket or anything like that,” he said.

“I needed a bit of time away from the game, and I need some more. Therefore I made myself unavailable for the New Zealand series, but to add to that, which I didn’t mention yesterday, is also the England series and the Bangladesh series after that. I am hoping to make a comeback with the Titans towards the end of the year in preparation for the series against India and against Australia. That’s the plan. I am not committing to it but I am hoping to make a comeback there in Test cricket.”

Haroon Lorgat, the Cricket South Africa chief executive, had earlier said that he was “confident England is kind of a series that he would want to be available for”. That de Villiers has now confirmed that he won’t be on the plane for the Tests might have come as a surprise for the board, but he revealed that it was a decision he arrived at after much deliberation and assessing of his priorities.

Short IPL 2017 for South Africans?
AB de Villiers: “We are getting pulled out of the IPL – I can’t speak on the behalf of CSA at the moment – but we’re all coming back early this year to prepare for the Champions Trophy. Dates haven’t been confirmed yet. All South Africans that are part of the IPL will be going there for the first month at least and we’ll assess when we’ll be coming back for the Champions Trophy and the three ODIs in England.”

“[Making a call on] the England series wasn’t easy,” he said. “No disrespect to New Zealand, even Bangladesh have proved their point. I need more time to get myself ready for the end of the year series and the Australia series. We’ll see where we go from there. I’m just not ready, that’s the best way I can put it.

“The bigger reason is life has changed for me. Playing three different formats, with the schedule the way it is, all of a sudden felt like the world is on top of my shoulders. That’s when I felt like I need to start prioritising what I want to achieve in my career, where I want to go, and what I feel motivated about.

“Priorities have changed over the years, family has changed, my roles in the team have changed over the years. There are a lot of things that have played a role in this decision but I wouldn’t like to think it’s the end. I would still like to make a comeback and finish on a high, somehow have a say in us getting that No. 1 ranking, which we deserve over the last few months with the way we have played. It’s definitely not the end of the story.”

De Villiers stressed that he understood that he won’t be an automatic selection when India tour South Africa in late 2017 – the series that he is hoping would be his comeback – simply based on reputation.

“It’s not like I am not going to walk back into the team, it’s very important to note that I am very prepared to come make a comeback at the Titans, score my runs and prove a point that I am still good enough to make the Test side, but we will talk about it when we get there towards the end of the year,” he pointed out.

As South Africa’s One-Day International captain, the 2019 World Cup remained priority No. 1 in his mind, but he didn’t rule out re-assessing his goals in another year, perhaps even in limited-over cricket.

“My dream plan is to come back for those eight Test matches and that’s all I can say for now,” he said. “My focus is on the 2019 World Cup, but if I feel physically incapable of making it after those two Test series, I will call it a day then. I’ll make that call once we get there. I can’t decide now how I am going to feel in 12 months.”

That he has had a lot of time on his hands to evaluate his state of mind is due to an elbow injury and multiple niggles that forced him to sit out of the Caribbean Premier League as well as the tour to Australia and the home Tests against Sri Lanka. He said he was feeling confident that his fitness was back on track, but is hoping to get a more accurate reading during a List A match for Northerns on Sunday before taking part in the third Twenty20 International against Sri Lanka.

“It feels pretty good. I am still aware of it,” he explained. “The surgery happened three months ago. The specialist said I will still be aware of it so it’s nothing new or different to what he said is going to happen. I can hit all my shots with the same sort of power that I used to hit them. There are one or two shots that I feel it a little bit more than others and I am not going to tell Sri Lanka before we play them which ones they are. Generally, I feel very confident at the wicket. I have been hitting the ball really well with the couple of net sessions I had.”

“My dream plan is to come back for those eight Test matches and that’s all I can say for now. My focus is on the 2019 World Cup, but if I feel physically incapable of making it after those two Test series, I will call it a day then. I’ll make that call once we get there. I can’t decide now how I am going to feel in 12 months.”

Expectedly, there were a few butterflies in his stomach though. “After a break like this, you’d like to prove that you can play the game and still hit the ball well,” he reasoned. “I know there will be a lot of eyes on me. There’s a bit of added pressure. I’ve always played under pressure. Maybe it’s a different kind of pressure this time around. I’m very motivated to go and do well for Sunday but also my country.”

Naturally, there are questions of whether the lure of T20 and fast money had a part in de Villiers’s decision-making process, but he categorically declared that he was only committing himself to playing the Indian Premier League as far as franchise cricket is concerned.

“The IPL, I feel has become part of the ICC schedule,” he reasoned. “There are a lot of reasons why all of us wouldn’t like to say no to an IPL. I am definitely not committing to anything else at the moment. You won’t see me at Big Bash, you won’t see me in any county game or any other T20 tournament around the world, except for playing South Africa and the IPL. I would like to say I am still very committed to South African cricket.”

To that end, he disclosed that in IPL 2017, South Africa’s players would be leaving the tournament early. It wasn’t a decision taken by the CSA but by de Villiers himself, leaving no stone unturned to get his team in shape for the Champions Trophy in June.

“We are getting pulled out of the IPL – I can’t speak on the behalf of CSA at the moment – but we’re all coming back early this year to prepare for the Champions Trophy,” he said. “Dates haven’t been confirmed yet. All South Africans that are part of the IPL will be going there for the first month at least and we’ll assess when we’ll be coming back for the Champions Trophy and the three ODIs in England.”