From denial to acceptance of the retirement of AB de Villiers
I was amongst the many Indians watching the fifth and final ODI of South Africa’s tour of India in 2015 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
South Africa had won the toss and, as expected, had decided to bat and put runs on the board on a hot, sultry Mumbai afternoon. The visiting team put up a mammoth total of 438 with the help of centuries from three of their class batsman. Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis had played brilliantly, but, it was one player who made passionate Indian fans change their loyalties for a brief period. The man was none other than Abraham Benjamin De Villiers.
As he nonchalantly exhibited his abilities, we erupted into chants of A-B-D…A-B-D. Yes, the bilateral series was tied at 2-2, yes, we wanted to witness another batting masterclass from Virat Kohli, but, we did not mind watching AB de Villiers in action either. The crowd knew that it was witnessing something special and so, gave the visiting batsman the respect one gets on a home ground. Such was the charm of the man. Such were his abilities.
This was the first time I had seen the champion live in action after years of watching him on the television.
As I pressed play on the video message posted by AB de Villiers on Twitter on May 23, 2018, I listened in disbelief. Did he not take the catch of the year at this year’s Indian Premier League? How can he say he has “run out of gas”? He does not look “tired” to me! I was in denial. It occurred to me that I could never see this legend bat on a cricket field again. I vividly remembered images of de Villiers from the pink ODI and 2015 World Cup match against West Indies, his Simon Katich run-out, his innings at Kotla in 2015 and Adelaide in 2012.
Along with this, I recalled the very striking image of the distraught AB de Villiers at the end of the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup. I thought about how his autobiography, “AB: The Autobiography” seemed to indicate that he would continue till the 2019 World Cup at least. South Africa, and him, both deserved to win that elusive ICC trophy!
As these thoughts passed, I realised that de Villiers has never been a cricketer who would give anything less than a 100% on the field (in his case, it was a whopping 360%)! If he has decided that his time has come, so be it.
History has shown that certain players can elevate the status of a game by just being a part of it. AB de Villiers was one such player. Hailed as the Superman of the cricketing world, de Villiers exemplified true qualities expected in a cricketer. He delivered in demanding situations, was a thorough team man and entertained the crowd. Whether it was keeping wickets for his team, pulling off a magical run out, plucking a catch out of thin air, scoring the fastest 50, 100, 150 or just standing defiantly on the crease to save a Test match, he could do it all.
Whatever he did, he did it with such finesse that the crowd was always left wanting more. ABD’s ability to hit a wide variety of shots all around the ground and immaculate athleticism on the field earned him fans from all across the world (remember his 100th Test match at Bengaluru, where again an Indian crowd hailed him as his own). His willingness to keep the team before himself, and being a positive role model to youngsters were parts of his personality which, though not visible to every cricket lover, had a positive impact on the game.
After playing for around 14 years for South Africa, AB de Villiers decided that it was time. Time to bid adieu to the sport that defined him. He did not choose to make the announcement through a large press conference and play a last Test series. He did it in his way, by choosing to tell us his side of the story; a story which seems unbelievable but true - that he is “tired”. He could have opted to make the much-hyped series against Australia his last and get a farewell Test match at home. But, like most South African greats, that would have been uncharacteristic of him. We must remember him as the man who truly believed in the greatness of the game and could just never make himself bigger than the game. For someone who was talented enough to be recognised, hardworking enough to continue performing, and grounded enough to be humble.
During this short interval of denial of his retirement to finally coming to terms with it, one thing which has impressed me the most is his decision to continue playing domestic cricket. The Titans would be privileged to have him. A player like him can help young cricketers who would greatly benefit from his influence. I sincerely hope South Africa gives him the farewell gift he deserves. A chance to hold the ICC World Cup trophy!
A thorough family man, AB famously said: "My secret's very, very simple - my wife came to watch me today…" We hope he enjoys his time off from the game with his family.
He may have dispelled the myths of being a badminton champion or a rugby player, but, the legend of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers will definitely live on the cricket field.