SOUTHAMPTON: South African captain Faf du Plessis bats during the match against West Indies at the Rose Bowl on Monday.—Reuters
SOUTHAMPTON: South African captain Faf du Plessis bats during the match against West Indies at the Rose Bowl on Monday.—Reuters

SOUTHAMPTON: South Africa really could have used A.B. de Villiers’ experience at the ongoing World Cup. Even more, it could have used his runs, according to their captain Faf du Plessis.

The revelation last week that the star batsman made a last-minute offer to come out of international retirement for the World Cup reportedly unsettled a squad that had already lost its first three games.

It was South Africa’s worst-ever start to a World Cup, and none of the batters have really clicked.

Du Plessis — De Villiers’ long-time friend — has batted away speculation about tension within the squad.

He told a news conference after South Africa picked up its first point of the tournament on Monday albeit from a washed out game against the West Indies that de Villiers phoned him the night before the 15-man squad was due to be officially announced.

“He didn’t come to me. It was just a conversation,” du Plessis said. “It was just a ‘This is what I’m feeling.’ I said to him, ‘I think it’s too late but I will check in with the coach and the selectors to get their opinion.’

“When I spoke to the head coach [Ottis Gibson] and the selectors the next day, they all agreed that it was way, way too late to change the team on 99.99.”

De Villiers is among the most naturally talented cricketers of his generation, a gifted batsman and fielder. He played 228 One-day International for South Africa, scoring 25 centuries and amassing almost 9,577 runs at an average of 53.50.

He’s still playing the Twenty20 format in the Indian Premier League, but hadn’t played a One-day International since February 2018.

Du Plessis and Gibson took the idea of de Villiers returning to the selection committee, but head selector Linda Zondi said it was rejected in fairness to the players who’d already been picked.

“The squad took the news in its stride last week,” du Plessis said. “And then just decided to get on with things; we do feel like the news came in and like went through the team. It didn’t have a huge impact.

“There was just a discussion on clarity and on making sure everyone knows what’s going on and then it was moving on. The team was happy to get on with business.”

After the losses to England, Bangladesh and India, and the injury-enforced absence of Dale Steyn, South Africa finally got its campaign going in England with the points split from the wash out against the West Indies.

The South Africans will play No. 10-ranked Afghanistan on Saturday in Cardiff and need to start a five-game winning roll there. They haven’t given up on making the semi-finals.

But, with those five fixtures left, the Proteas are still in danger of their worst World Cup performance and Du Plessis said: “We’re in this position because we haven’t played our best cricket. We need individuals to stand up.

“We don’t deserve to be anywhere close to the top of the table. We need to start playing better cricket, more consistent, more solid cricket.”

Du Plessis insisted South Africa still boast good spirit in the wake of their poor performances so far.

“I do honestly feel as a team, the feeling in the camp is still very strong,” he said. “A couple of bad results and cracks can start to appear but that honestly hasn’t happened to us.

“In that situation the blame game can start but I do honesty believe we’ve been very far away from that.”

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019