It was an indifferent day, where something didn't feel alright. Something was imperfect about it, how ironical that a batsman who personified perfection was announcing the end of his career that day. It took us a while to realize what has suddenly hit us, much like how AB de Villiers' batting happened to all of us. It left us awestruck. The realization that this most wonderful feeling might never be cherished again, pains in the heart.
The normal way of judging a player is to look at his statistics, and De Villiers excels at it with more than 20,000 runs across all formats for his country playing at the highest level of the game. He has runs in all conditions, a genuine sign of a world class batsman, with a Test average over 40 in Australia, India, New Zealand, England, West Indies, Pakistan.
These are numbers anyone would be proud of, but understanding him nobody is prouder than AB de Villiers to have represented his nation for 14 years across 114 Tests, 228 ODIs, and 78 T20 Internationals.
De Villiers has always come across as a very modest man. He has this, at times, irritating habit of downplaying himself.
When he took the life out of West Indies in a World Cup game for the duration of his 162 from just 66 balls, he gave credit to Rilee Rossouw to have inspired him by playing a stroke that gave him, yes..him, belief that he can also do something special.
When he recently took a catch that will be memorable for the future generations of Indian Premier League, he talked about how his balance was just not right to take the catch the way he wanted to and hence just jumped for about 6 feet and then almost dived in the air to his right to take the ball cleanly and swiftly in the middle of his hand. You see, he gives an impression that he doesn't know he is a genius. Nobody knows whether he knows how good he is, you would think he does but he doesn't need to.
They claim he doesn't win matches like some of the others did, he has a record of averaging over 60 in Test matches where South Africa either won or drawn, they never said. He has an ODI average of well above 55 in wins, which remains above that while in run-chases.
You see where this is going. De Villiers understood, dealt and excelled at pressure as good as anyone. His impeccability isn't defined by the fact that he'll never win a world cup, it is explained by how he can score a 162 from 66 on a Monday and follow it up with a 33* from 211 on a Friday.
Rahul Dravid, summed it up perfectly once when he said, "I had my three goes at that Trophy..scored a few, but it never happened. Like it wasn't meant to be. I understand there could be others who may think, there are 'things that he achieved and we couldn't..', that's life"
The imperfection, successes and failures, the humanity of it all, makes great cricketers like Dravid and De Villiers, even greater.
His retirement is a big blow to international cricket. Here's the best modern-day cricketer retiring at the age of 34 with his fitness at the peak because he is "tired". It is very easy to say that this decision is selfishly done for the money that he can get in a less taxing environment than what the international game demands of him. To understand it is deeper.
It is what we all wish for ourself, imagine you have the option of a job that pays you in multifold sums for less than the 8 hours of work that your existing job demands from you. It is an option that many won't have an "or" in the mind for but AB de Villiers has a bigger reason for it. He has a family that is starting to flourish. He wants to enjoy seeing his kid every morning before he starts a day. It is something he absolutely deserves after playing 14 long years for his country.
It is alarming that more and more highly skillful cricketers are finding the T20 leagues around the world more attractive than the international game but we have already reached the Football-isation of our sport, where the international cricket has to be filled with context and built around the space that leagues are for. Players understand they have a very limited time frame in their playing days, they have to encash whatever they can for their families. It is not something that should be criticised for, it is something they need to be helped by the International Cricket Council for, by making international cricket more relevant and attractive.
Ones who understand him will have nothing but respect for AB de Villiers.
His decision and his retirement pains the heart but it is something that is best for him. He has the right to take this decision and we all should be very respectful of that.