ESPNcricinfo understands that Walter and du Plessis discussed the possibility of the former captain returning soon, but scheduling and contracting challenges have made things difficult for now. With Cricket South Africa (CSA) set to announce new central contracts later this month, and the idea of single-format contracts mooted, du Plessis could be back in the picture with the 2024 T20 World Cup in mind.
“We have always been open to conversations with our freelance players and Rob is very interested in resuming those conversations,” said Enoch Nkwe, CSA’s Director of Cricket. “In terms of signing, we and SACA (the South African Cricketers’ Association) are dealing with that aspect to make sure we remain proactive, because the reality is that there is a lot that is evolving in our cricket landscape.
“We have to do our very best to be on the front foot. A lot of players are still committed to all three formats, but we have some white ball only players and some red ball only players. What we will see in the near future expect going forward, maybe even over the next 12 months, is we might even move more specifically to T20, ODI and Test contracts. Those are some of the things we’re actually looking at.”
Du Plessis retired from Test cricket in February 2021, but remains available for selection in white-ball formats. He was not picked for any series, including the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cups, despite stunning form in competitions around the world.
Since his last Test, du Plessis has played 90 innings in the PSL, CPL, IPL, BPL, BBL and SA20, scoring 2747 runs at 33.91, higher than his overall average of 31.18, including four of his five T20 -hundreds.
Nkwe confirmed that du Plessis was in talks with CSA about a comeback for both T20I World Cups, but the judges at the time, which consisted of Victor Mpitsang and Patrick Moroney, were unable to come to an agreement.
“There were discussions with the selection panel and the coach before the World Cup and they concluded (without solution),” Nkwe said. “From a CSA standpoint, we like to be involved and look at how we can find the best way forward.”
Mpitsang and Moroney were both relieved of their duties after Mark Boucher’s coaching term with South Africa ended, with selection now the responsibility of the respective head coaches. While that gives Walter more of a say than Boucher would have had in whether or not to bring in Freelancers, it doesn’t resolve the primary concerns of matches and money, both of which prevented AB de Villiers from returning to play in the 2019 World Cup.
De Villiers declined for scheduling and financial reasons, and CSA has not resolved the issue since. While they would normally offer a non-contracted player match compensation for playing games, they now also have to consider compensation if those games fall within the same time frame as a league, where the player could earn more.
Short-term deals, which Nkwe indicated are currently being discussed, would likely take that gap into account and reward a player enough to opt for national duty.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent for South Africa and women’s cricket