AB de Villiers: The shattered dream of a World Cup triumph
"Today, we saw a glimpse of his fallibility, his vulnerability to hold the nerves of his side together, and the ever faint hopes of pulling off a miraculous escape getting slimmer and slimmer."
“All it takes is one moment, one single instance of brilliance or silliness, and that’s it.” – Anon.
You get a player like Abraham Benjamin de Villiers only once in a lifetime. He’s truly a special person – delivering almost every time his squad is staring down the barrel. Epithets such as Superhuman and Demigod have been thrown about so liberally in his case that one forgets he’s just another guy playing the sport he loves, just doing exceptionally well at it.
Today, however, it stands proven beyond a shadow of doubt that the Proteas skipper is just another man, saddled with the cares of a leader, the hopes of a nation long bereft of a major ICC title since the 1998 Mini-World Cup victory, and the ever-growing burden of having to win everything in sight.
Today we saw a glimpse of his fallibility, his vulnerability to hold the nerves of his side together, and the ever faint hopes of pulling off a miraculous escape getting slimmer and slimmer as NZ’s Grant Elliott announced his arrival on the big stage.
To put it simply – AB messed up, and it cost his side a maiden appearance in a World Cup final. But for the enigmatic captain, it was a much bigger loss – a shattered dream. An insight offered into what he might be going through right now:
It wasn’t supposed to end this way!
When it is a case of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, the first thought that occurs to anyone is a combination of outright denial, shock and disbelief all competing for the position of display on the person’s face. The plethora of emotions was too much for someone like Morne Morkel, seen visibly distraught – emotional scenes played out more familiar in Football World Cups, where the margins of defeat are miniscule.
The Pretorian must be feeling the same. How could he, a champion fielder, fluff the easy run out of the maverick Corey Anderson? Why did his quicksilver reflexes desert him when he, and his side, needed them the most? As the leader, how did he not anticipate his opposite number’s savagery when the Black Caps set out in pursuit of the revised target? More importantly, how did it come to this when he controlled the game so well all through?
He’s an intensely proud man, with a lot of faith in his own abilities. It certainly wasn’t supposed to end the way it did. 2019 cannot come quickly enough.
Do I need to teach them how to bat and field?
Everyone looks up to de Villiers to play a blinder of an innings each time. Their reasoning is quite simple – he has got an amazing repertoire of shots, and then some more. Having started off as a wicket-keeper, it is quite safe to say that he knows exactly how the field is set and then picks his scoring areas with ridiculous ease. The blitzkrieg against the hapless West Indies at Sydney is one of the lasting images of this edition of the World Cup.
But he has his limits too. You cannot expect him to blast SA out of trouble every single time. It’s a team game, cricket, and it requires everyone to stand up and be counted. The way the likes of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock have performed in this tournament have only exacerbated the burden on de Villiers; at this stage, he really doesn’t have to teach them how to use the willow and which side to hold it, does he? Sure, David Miller did play a fine innings today, but not the rest. Why is there no urgency, no freedom exhibited when going out into the middle?
The fielding, an area which the legendary Jonty Rhodes pioneered for the Proteas, has been a solid let down. No communication between Farhaan Behardien & JP Duminy resulted in a life given to the Kiwis’ Man of the Moment, and with it went South Africa’s chances.
AB doesn’t need to tell them how to do their job – they’re specialists, and these mistakes were the proverbial death knell for the side. The question remains: Why did they not keep it simple?
I don’t want to lead any more!
There will be statements to the contrary when I say that de Villiers may not want to lead the ODI side any more. But you cannot tell me that this thought didn’t cross his mind after the game. It’s just another instance of him being human.
The game of cricket is such that there is always immense pressure on those tagged as favourites to deliver over and over again. The “Saffas” are a proud lot, and their skipper is no less so.
A defeat of this magnitude, despite braving that little weasel called Rain & having the Duckworth-Lewis method in their favour in terms of the final target set for the opposition, is bound to reduce the level of self confidence a notch or two. At the end of the game, all you’re left with are the pieces.
This is where his own work ethic and approach to the game will come in handy for the beleaguered dynamo. He will just have to re-focus, re-energize and regroup (both mentally and physically) and look on this loss as a bad dream.
He will have the not-so-envious task of boosting the morale of his shell-shocked mates, yet with the presence of senior pros like Dale Steyn and Faf du Plessis, he will be able to at least lead them out from the depths of despair.
Finally, he will have another shot at glory, because age is on his side as well as on that of his young team, and next time, he’ll triumph.
Today, though, the human side of AB de Villiers will mourn another exit in the knockout stages of yet another World Cup. For his sake and for all the wondrous sights he will entertain us with over the years to come, just let him be.