AB de Villiers is “extremely excited” to play cricket again in next month’s Mzansi Super League, Cricket South Africa’s new T20 competition. De Villiers, who announced his retirement from international cricket at the end of IPL 2018, is part of the Tshwane Spartans squad, and their game on the opening weekend of the MSL in November will mark the end of a six-month break from the game for him.
“I haven’t played cricket for a while, but I am getting back into the swing of things,” de Villiers said at the Tshwane Spartans launch at their home ground, SuperSport Park. “I have had these kinds of breaks before and it is always a challenge to get fit and hit balls again. I am really looking forward to that, and what will be a really good challenge in the Mzansi Super League.”
The MSL is CSA’s second attempt at their own home-grown T20 league, and though they are latecomers to the global T20 league circuit, de Villiers said the development was a major milestone in South African cricket.
“It is a huge step in the right direction for Cricket South Africa, and South African cricket,” he said. “As a unit, we’ll be looking to not just pull this tournament off, but make it a great spectacle for fans around the world to enjoy.”
The broadening of cricket’s fan base in South Africa has been central to CSA’s thinking in re-structuring their T20 league after the aborted first attempt. Financial stability could be a trickier challenge as the MSL’s first season will cost more than it brings in, with CSA budgeting for an R40 million (USD 2.7 million) loss, while it is understood that the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) picked up exclusive television rights to the tournament for free. But de Villiers insisted that the league had great potential.
“It is difficult to say [how big the MSL could get] but the potential is huge,” de Villiers added. “This tournament will give us a feel of what to expect and where it is going to go, but it will get better every single year. In the beginning, the IPL was a bit slow because people did not know where it was going to go, but look at it now.”
De Villiers’ return to franchise cricket in South Africa has been accompanied by rumours of a potential recall to the national squad ahead of next year’s World Cup in England, but he was quick to squash any comeback talk.
“No, there is no comeback,” he said. “I made the mistake of saying ‘never say never’, which is a philosophy that I have always followed in my life. I was actually trying to say that I am focusing on the now, but it came out horribly wrong and the next minute there were headlines around the world.
“I certainly do not want to confuse anyone around the world, especially the Proteas team. It will be very selfish and arrogant of me to throw statements around that I want to play at the World Cup. I am happy where I am and focusing on the now and I will never say ‘never say never’ again. My focus at the moment is to play good cricket in the Mzansi Super League for the Tshwane Spartans. I have been working hard to be fit.”
De Villiers will join a Tshwane Spartans middle order that also includes England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan. “I am very happy because he [Morgan] is a great leader and he has been in fantastic form,” de Villiers said of Morgan. “He is a match-winner and I think we got lucky with him. I don’t know how he ended up in our team because I thought he was going to be picked up earlier. I am very happy to have him in our team.”