Seldom it happens that a player ends his career after scoring 20,000 international runs in over 400 games, making close to 50 hundreds and over 100 fifties and you still say that he has underachieved in his career. That is the feeling you get when Abraham Benjamin de Villiers gave a respite to the bowlers around the world by hanging up his boots and trust me, even the bowlers would be sad with his departure.
For a player with the calibre of AB de Villiers, 10,000 runs in both forms of the game would have been a par-achievement and he has ended his career prematurely before crossing that barrier in either formats of the game. When it comes to South Africa, AB does not feature in top 3 of their highest run-scorers in Test cricket and is comfortably behind Jacques Kallis in ODIs. But if there was a euphoria factor a batsman possessed, there is a broad daylight between AB and any of his South African colleagues. Not only the Proteas, even the best around the world will struggle to match his standards.
Watching AB de Villiers bat in his full pomp was one of the biggest joys for a cricket fan. For the 90's kids, AB de Villiers kept them indulged with the game after their favorites went into the twilight and for those growing up into adolescence while watching the sport, AB kept them in awe of the sport. And ABD had a similar effect on former cricketers as well who saw the maverick batsman lift batting to a whole new level.
After one of his pristine knocks in IPL, 133* against the Mumbai Indians, Ricky Ponting, the opposition head coach turned to Jonty Rhodes sitting behind him to tell him that each of AB’s shot was played into the gap. “That’s not luck. That is genius”, he said. That is how you describe him, GENIUS.
And if there was one batsman the opposition wouldn’t perhaps mind losing the game to, then it is AB de Villiers and the reason can be threefolds. One, when he goes berserk, you know there is no force that can stop him. Two, you know you have the best seats in the house to witness an ABD gem and three, if he is chasing a target, you know he will finish it soon and cut short your agony of feeling helpless in front of one man.
If you are creating AB de Villiers for a computer game, you will have to set all his batting attributes to maximum, be it his artistry against spin or his expertise to counter swing and seam, be it his ability to defend the ball or his potential to plunder bowling attacks, be it Test, T20 or ODI cricket.
When South Africa was struggling in yet another home Test against Australia in Centurion, 2014, AB de Villiers was the only one who was able to tackle the thunderbolts from Mitchell Johnson with ease to score 91 in a losing cause. In the next Test, Michael Clarke saw AB unleashing himself again and put 4 fielders in the mid-wicket region to disturb him but AB made a mockery of that field by flicking the ball over those fielders for a six. The field was back to normal before the next ball was bowled and AB eased his way to 116, this time in a winning cause.
Add to these, his double hundreds on the sub-continental tracks of UAE and India (278* and 217) against some leading spinners of his time including Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Saeed Ajmal and you will know that his form did not care about what kind of attack he was facing and on what kind of a track. His 112 against India in Chennai, 2015 is one of the most high-class hundreds you will ever see in a losing cause.
And we all know he can bat in any gear. You want him to score runs in death overs, he can turn up with the fastest ODI fifty, hundred and 150 (also holds the record for fastest Test ton by a South African) and if you want to save a Test, he can also shut his shop with a boundary-less 33 in 220 balls or a 43 in 297 balls.
Kane Williamson was once asked about what does it take to be a great batsman and no wonder, he replied, “I won’t know it. Not there yet. Ask AB de Villiers.”
Despite being so destructive, there was an innocence with which he played his game. During his 163 in the 3rd Test at Newlands, 2009, there was a stage when AB had struck Andrew McDonald for three sixes in a row and Albie Morkel told him to go for six sixes in an over. AB reminded him, “Hold on mate, we are playing Test cricket, not T20”. AB struck the next ball for a six as well but then pushed the 5th one for a single.
And there was an utter nonchalance about his batting when he scooped once-in-a generation fast bowler like Dale Steyn to the second tier of the Chinnaswamy Stadium over fine-leg.
Thr truth is, as a cricketer, AB surprised even himself by doing some unthinkable things on the field. We have seen him drop his jaws admiring his own shots, we have also seen him cover his face in embarrassment after pulling off some stunners as a fielder, him running out Simon Katich with a direct hit while rolling away from the stumps will never get old.
Sir Viv Richards caught the cricketing world off guard by maintaining an ODI average of 47 at a strike rate of 90. AB de Villiers took it a notch above, in a much better era for batsmen though, but still it means something to be the only batsman to have an ODI average of 50-plus with a strike rate of over 100. 25 ODI hundreds, all of them coming at a strike-rate of over 100, 5 ODI hundreds after coming into bat in the second half of the innings, another world record.
For a cricketer with such dexterity on the field, he doesn’t have quite a few big accolades to his name like 10,000 runs in either formats of the game, 30 Test hundreds or an ICC Trophy. You may see him as a choker or an all-time great, it all depends on what kind of a human being you are.
But if there is any South African who gave the Rainbow Nation any hope to lift a World Cup, then it was AB de Villiers and they are set to discover their life without AB de Villiers, which will be tough because their life without Jacques Kallis has already been quite difficult.
Currently, South African cricket yearns for AB de Villiers more than they ever had and we saw that during their the Test series against Australia. But the man says he is “tired”. And given his current form, if anyone should be tired, then it should be the bowlers bowling at him. The Aussies were probably so tired, they had to turn to some deceitful measures to hinder him.
With his retirement, AB de Villiers has shocked all of us like he baffles the bowlers with his sublime strokeplay. But trust me, we all are doing much better than we imagine. The pain will be a lot harder to endure when South Africa prepares for their next series or during the build-up of the World Cup next year when giants from each nation will assemble for the mega event and AB de Villiers won’t be present there. There will be a lump in a throat when AB’s name will slip into our cricket conversations.
With his untimely retirement, AB de Villiers has left us pondering what formidable heights he could have achieved in his career statistically, what crazy knocks he would have played and what insane things he could have done as a fielder if he had played for another 2 years.
But for all the joy he has given us, respecting his decision to leave the game is the least we can do. After South Africa’s heartbreaking loss in the World Cup 2015 semi-final, when the Protean players returned home, AB de Villiers saw a fan holding a placard saying, “AB hug me, I am sad also, please” and AB breached the security to give that man a hug.
The man who has respected the fans to that level, it is the moment to give him his time off the sun.
You know international cricket is demanding when an athlete at the peak of his powers doesn’t feel motivated enough to carry on. You might have “ran out of gas” but we will never be an ounce short of it to watch you play, AB. The world cricket is a better place for the bowlers with your retirement and yet, a majority of them would be sad to see you go.
Thank you for the memories, (A)bsolutely (B)rilliant de Villiers