South Africa batsman AB de Villiers has taken a step closer to retirement from Test cricket after making himself unavailable for the upcoming series against England and Bangladesh later this year. The 32-year-old has not represented his country since June 2016 and has missed the last three Test series in a row against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka, having undergone elbow surgery.

The Pretoria-born right-hander has already ruled himself out of the three-Test series with the Kiwis starting in February. South Africa face Sri Lanka and New Zealand in three T20 and five one-day internationals and De Villiers is expected to feature – though he appears unwilling to risk his fitness in the longest form of the game.

In December, De Villiers resigned as Test captain and the decision regarding his participation in 2017 follows talks with team management, when a timeline regarding his return was outlined. The withdrawal is a desperate attempt to lengthen his career in an effort to ensure he is fit for the 2019 Cricket World Cup.

"I needed a bit of time away from the game and I need some more," said De Villiers, according to Cricinfo, who is hopeful of returning against India and Australia later in the year. "Therefore I made myself unavailable for the New Zealand series, but to add to that 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.

"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."

De Villiers' absence from the Test arena is a major blow to a format that is already struggling to attract audiences both in stadiums across the globe and on television. The world number 10-ranked Test batsman admits his priorities on and off the field have changed in recent years, leading to him being more selective over his commitments.

"I'm just not ready, that's the best way I can put it," he added. "Priorities have changed over the years, family has changed, my roles in the team have changed over the years. 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, and 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.

"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 number one ranking, which we deserve over the last few months with the way we have played. It's definitely not the end of the story. 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."

Missing the three Test against New Zealand in March is expected to make De Villiers available for the ODI and T20 matches against England, which occur either side of the Champions Trophy in June.