Proteas batting wizard AB de Villiers stunned the cricketing fraternity by announcing a shock retirement from international cricket on Wednesday (May 23). Fondly known as Mr. 360 degree because of his repertoire of strokes, De Villiers is widely deemed as one of the best batsmen in contemporary cricket.
During his 14-year long cricket career, De Villiers represented South Africa in 228 ODIs, scoring 9577 runs at a phenomenal average and strike-rate of 53.50 and 101.09 respectively. He is the proud owner of the record of being the quickest to reach fifty (16 balls), hundred (31 balls) and 150 runs (64 balls) in one-day internationals. Besides, the 34-year-old also proved his mettle in the longest format, amassing 8765 runs in Tests at an average of 50.66 with 22 centuries and 46 fifties.
As the revered cricketer calls time on his illustrious career, congratulatory messages and tribute pieces poured in him from the cricketing fraternity.
In an exclusive interview with ESPNCricinfo’s Cricket Monthly, legendary Proteas pacer Dale Steyn gave a sneak peek into De Villiers’ extraordinary talent and how being in the company of AB can actually help a player to grow.
“His excellence rubs off on other people. When you are in the company of greatness, there is only one thing to do: to raise your game. I actually sent him a message yesterday and said to him: I don't think I would be half as good as people think I am if it wasn't for him being in the team. Without him even knowing, he made more than half the players in our team excellent players,” Steyn told Cricket Monthly.
“One of my highlights of being a Proteas player is that at one stage we were the No. 1 team across all formats. That was under Gary Kirsten as coach, but I can guarantee that team wouldn't have achieved such great heights without great players like AB. That was the ability of AB - to be able to raise everyone's game with incredible intensity. That is another unique skill he has,” he added.
AB and Steyn made their Test debut in the same match – against England in 2004 in Port Elizabeth. Recalling the memories of his maiden Test with De Villiers, Steyn said: “We also made our first-class debuts together [for Northerns] in 2003 and not long after that we played our first Test together. We ended up with quite a lot of matches together.”
“What not many people are aware of is that we actually played a little bit against other in our teens. AB was playing then for Northerns and I was playing for Limpopo in provincial school cricket. Then we were playing against each other in the Coca-Cola Cricket Week, which is when all the provincial schools come together and from which the junior school team for South Africa is picked. So from about the age of 11 we have played together. The thing about him was: you were drawn to him. I remember AB when he was 11. I can't remember many of the others. It wasn't because of his cricket that I remember AB. It was because of who he was: a charismatic child who grew up to become this amazing guy,” he elaborated.
When asked if AB ever challenged him as a captain following the exit of Graeme Smith, Steyn asserted: “He did. The best captain I played under was Graeme [Smith]. When AB came on as the captain, he showed signs of greatness, but his skills overshadowed his ability to lead the side. Although he was a very good captain, he was still a much better player [than captain], whereas Graeme was not such a good player but was an incredible captain. But AB did challenge me, sometimes in front of other players, sometimes in front of the team. He wasn't doing that to get a reaction out of me or to make me look like an arse in front of others. It was for the better development of me. That is what we ask of each other in the Proteas side and it was led by him.”
Speaking about his favourite AB de Villiers innings, Steyn said: “The pink game [against West Indies] where he hit the fastest ODI hundred. I remember him urging Russell Domingo [then South Africa's coach] to send David Miller in because he felt Miller could clear the ropes. Russell said, "No, you go", to AB.”
“He was reluctant, but eventually said "fine" and rushed out of the change room. There are a couple of stairs as you step out of the change room at the Wanderers. As he ran out, he almost saw his arse on the first step. It is not on TV. When he came out to the ground he looked cool and composed, but he had almost fallen flat on his face. And from ball one he just turned it on and it was chaos after that. So West Indies need to blame Russell Domingo and David Miller for that record,” he concluded.