Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Considering AB de Villiers. What to make of a player so special that it defined him wholly
What to make of a player so special that it defined him wholly
You know you're a star when your parents pull a crowd who wouldn't have had a clue who they were if they had passed them in the street. But by then there was no doubting the star status of AB de Villiers.
The second Test of South Africa's unhappy series in India in November 2015, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, was De Villiers' 100th. He was welcomed to the crease at his other home ground – he played 84 matches in Centurion and 65 in Bangalore – like a son. On his way to the middle, another of the city's famous adoptees, Virat Kohli, took a moment out of stamping his authority on his first home series as captain to shake De Villiers' hand.
An hour had passed during which South Africa, still reeling from having been routed inside three days on 22 yards of designer dust in Mohali, discovered they had lost the ability to bat on a greentop. Stiaan van Zyl, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla had been dismissed, and all for 45 runs.
De Villiers, then the top-ranked Test batter, changed that narrative in an innings that began with him leaping down the pitch to Ravichandran Ashwin – and then lunging, elegantly as you like, into a forward defensive. He batted through four partnerships that realised 132 of the total of 214, and made 85 before being sawn off by a questionable decision for caught behind off Ravindra Jadeja. It was an arresting performance that, like all of De Villiers' best, seemed at once frenetic and effortless. The only spot of calm was where he was, or where he kept his thoughts.
The delivery that was gifted his wicket became the last ball before tea, which somehow prompted the appearance of De Villiers' parents in the pressbox, where they were received by the mostly Indian reporters present like celebrities in their own right. “I never played cricket in my life,” his father, also Abraham Benjamin – and also AB – said. “Where I come from there was only one ball.” He made an oval shape with his hands, indicating a rugby ball. “Do you know this ball?” There was silence, which Millie de Villiers broke with, “They don't know.”
South Africa's last three wickets tumbled to the first 45 balls of the third session. India were 80 without loss at stumps. And that was, effectively, the end of the match: all of the last four days were lost to rain. That allowed De Villiers' innings – and the eight wickets shared by Ashwin and Jadeja – to stand in splendid, stark relief. It was its own fine thing that defied being blended into the team effort even though it did much for the collective.
He had a knack for this; for creating a whirlwind of which he was simultaneously part of and apart from. On another occasion at M Chinnaswamy, at an IPL game in May 2018, the chants of “ABD” cut through the wall-to-wall din of probably the loudest crowd in cricket – who invoked De Villiers' name even though he was not playing because of illness. He was nowhere near the 2019 World Cup in England when news broke that discussions had taken place about him coming out of international retirement to play in the tournament, which destroyed South Africa's already waning confidence.
Perhaps if you're as hot a player as De Villiers was, it's best to keep away from the flames. Or maybe that was one of the few available ways to keep it real. Because the truth of it is that De Villiers is special only on a sports field. That is no insult: clearly he has made his parents proud, and just as clearly he adores life as a husband and a father. Even so, millions of people around the world know how that feels. They are special to the people in their lives, but, beyond those boundaries, that does not make them special. De Villiers, the cricketer, is as special as a person could be without hurting themselves.
But see him out of his professional habitat and you might as well be looking at a peacock marooned on an iceberg. That's a kind description of the discombobulated mess he was, understandably, at a press conference in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup final at Eden Park.
Or he could be mistaken for just some guy. In November 2012 he was no more than another beer-buzzed bro among those who shambled into a pub – “The Lucky Shag”, no less – on the banks of the Swan in Perth late on the night that South Africa celebrated the completion of a successful Test series. In Gqeberha – then Port Elizabeth – in March 2018, on the eve of what became the “Sandpapergate” series against the Aussies, he was a harried parent in a restaurant at the team hotel trying to convince his children to eat something not made of sugar. In July 2019 he went unnoticed by the locals when he took time out from playing for Middlesex in the T20 Blast to come to Deptford Park, just south of the Thames, in London to open an artificial pitch that had been laid by a charity that funds public cricket facilities.
“Do you know AB de Villiers,” a woman present was asked. “Who? No.” She was informed: “He's a famous cricketer from South Africa. A very famous cricketer. That's him out there; in the pink shirt.” Around De Villiers were around 30 excited children who knew exactly who he was, among them the woman's. “A famous cricketer you say? I'm getting a picture…”
It's difficult to know who or what AB de Villiers would have been had he not become AB de Villiers. His identity is so tightly bound to his shimmering talent as a cricketer that, when he isn't holding a bat or diving for a ball, he seems almost not to exist. He is the tail of his own comet.
De Villiers' announcement on Friday that he has retired from all cricket means his wife, Danielle de Villiers, and Millie and AB senior have their spouse and son back from his all-encompassing previous job. Two little boys and their baby sister are about to discover that, happily, their father is more than someone who appears on television from faraway places wearing strange clothes and doing even stranger things. De Villiers belongs to them. He does not belong to cricket, or to those who follow the game.
It seems he does not need to make more money playing cricket. He certainly doesn't need to endure more bio-bubbles in the cause of playing cricket. Is he a peacock on an iceberg, or just some guy? We're about to find out.