The swashbuckling Proteas batsman has shown that he is endless energy with the bat despite quitting international cricket two years ago.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has some eternal megastars and Abraham Benjamin de Villiers is one of them. The premier South African batsman has departed from the arena of international cricket more than two years ago but going by his match-winning knock of 73* off 33 balls against Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2020 the other night in Sharjah, one can’t really overcome the shock soon enough. Was AB de Villiers’ knock so unreal that it made us rethink the status of a retired player? Can a retired international player be in such a touch?
When De Villiers bid adieu to international cricket in early 2018, the fans were taken aback. After having left the ground in tears in Australia in 2015 when South Africa lost a high-scoring World Cup semi-final to New Zealand under his captaincy, de Villiers was expected to try for the crown again in England in 2019. But surprisingly, the man chose not to do so and said the pressure to perform day in and day out was too much.
He even said the expectations that he faced from various quarters were massive and he, in fact, did not like receiving so much attention. But his talent did not still desert him and De Villiers is continuing to bat with power and prowess in the IPL, in yet another edition.
AB de Villiers has evolved into a perfect batsman
AB de Villiers has been one batsman who has evolved and evolved to perfection. Unlike Sachin Tendulkar, Brain Lara or Ricky Ponting or even his compatriot Jacques Kallis, de Villiers hasn’t been a trend-setter from the beginning. SA were never known to be a team of super individuals (except Jonty Rhodes and Allan Donald may be) but a team of talented players who could produce for their country.
But de Villiers, over a period of time, made a sensational mark for himself. In international career, De Villiers has belted more than 20,000 runs while in T20s, he is nearing the 10k mark. The man is a run machine, needless to say. It is not that there were not many players before de Villiers who played like him. The world has seen the likes of Vivian Richards and Dean Jones who batted in limited-over formats with as much machismo.
But de Villiers is unique for he is a summary of the high points of all his predecessors who entertained the cricketing world in their own style in the past. This is his greatness. AB de Villiers is a complete modern-day batsman who executes his fearlessness in style and gives wings to his imagination while intimidating the opponent.
This brings us to the pertinent question: Does de Villiers plan to return to international cricket? Even India’s head coach Ravi Shastri appealed to him to return after his rich exploits against the Knight Riders. He has been less than clear on making a return to the international stage. But given his form even at 36-plus, the very speculation about him making a comeback is unusual. It alone makes the man one of the best the game has ever produced.
ABD looks free-flowing in franchise cricket
But the experience of the past (recall what happened during the 2019 World Cup) and SA’s internal cricketing turmoils could pose the biggest obstacles to a fairy-tale return from AB de Villiers into the national team. SA are going through a transition phase in which he might still not find himself a perfect fit and given the regular racial-political selection issues, the man might feel less than motivated to go on with his mega shows with the bat.
Franchise cricket, on the other hand, makes it a much better platform for him to carry on with his magic. There are less non-cricketing issues and more about the game and the fans’ non-stop showering of praise. AB de Villiers can never be labelled only as a slam-bang batsman. In Tests, he has also displayed the iron patience to score 33 in 220 balls to save a Test in Australia in 2012 or made 106 not out in 186 balls to see his team win chasing a target of 400-plus in a Test Down Under.
His average of 50-plus in the long format with 22 hundreds also makes him one of the best batsman in red-ball cricket. Can South Africa still choose to ignore him especially when there is a dearth of top-quality batsmen in their line-up at the moment? SA’s cricket will find itself in a unique position now over the AB de Villiers question. Should he really be brought back for whatever cricket is left in him, at least for the next T20 World Cup which will be held in India’s flat pitches?
Or should he be ignored to invite the fans’ wrath? De Villiers has certainly gained from the break from the killing pressure that made him quit the national team. Will he be eager to go back? The question will not be easy to answer but as far as cricket’s interest is concerned, international cricket deserves to see ABD returning to its stage.