If AB de Villiers' supporters think he could march straight back into South Africa's dressing room at the T20 World Cup, they will be disappointed.
"It's not just going to be as simple as that," Enoch Nkwe, South Africa's assistant coach, said on Tuesday (January 14). "From my experience of the last couple of weeks with how [head coach Mark Boucher] works, he really believes in processes - you've got to earn it. It's not just walking into the team."
De Villiers stunned the cricket world in May 2018 when, aged just 34, he retired from the international stage to pursue a career as a T20 franchise specialist. But earlier on Tuesday cricket.com.au quoted De Villiers as saying he would "love to" make a return to the highest level at the tournament in Australia in November and December, although he acknowledged that "there's a lot that needs to happen before that becomes reality".
"I've been talking to [Boucher], [acting director of cricket] Graeme Smith and [captain] Faf [du Plessis] back home; we're all keen to make it happen," de Villiers was quoted as saying. "It's a long way away still and plenty can happen. There's the IPL coming up - I've still got to be in form at that time. So I'm thinking of throwing my name in the hat and hoping that everything will work out. It's not a guarantee. I don't want to disappoint myself or other people, so, for now, I'm just going to try and keep a low profile, try and play the best possible cricket that I can and then see what happens towards the end of the year."
Reports that de Villiers had made a tentative offer to return for the one-day World Cup in England last year - which was declined - became a lingering subplot for a struggling side who won only three of their eight completed games. This time, it seems, the prospect of having him back in a South Africa shirt has been better received - not least because he remains active in South African cricket. "He has been involved in the [Mzansi Super League] and I'm sure that if he shows interest he will be involved in some of the series that we will be playing," Nkwe said. "We keep seeing him fully committed to these types of [T20] leagues, which shows that if we need experience like that we could actually call him up. I am sure that he would be someone who would love to do it for South Africa."
Smith, Boucher and de Villiers were teammates for South Africa, a fact that can only help ease him back into the mix. "There are a lot of players who I used to play with, guys who understand the game, leaders of the team for many years," he was quoted as saying. "So it's much easier to communicate than what it used to be in the past. They understand what players go through - especially players that have played for 15 years internationally," de Villiers had said.
It doesn't mean that everything is going to be sunshine and roses, but it's definitely a lot easier and it feels comfortable; the language that's being used and just the feel that everyone has at the moment in South Africa about cricket. They're my friends; I played 10-plus years with them internationally. We've been through a lot and it's great to have them involved again. Hopefully, I'll be involved again as well pretty soon."