“But ‘nice’ de Villiers was too ‘nice’ to say a ‘no’ to his beloved tail-enders. As such, several of us watched in disbelief as he threw his helpless men to the starving lion and remained beaten, yet unbeaten”.
Ever faced a situation of thinking ‘no, no, no’ in the mind and then blurting out a ‘yes’ blatantly? If so, welcome to the World of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers. Having stormed into the South African side at the tender age of 20, de Villiers is arguably the most talented force to have wielded the willow, at least for South Africa.
However, in a stellar career that stands close to one and a half decades, a glaring flaw in de Villiers’ game, or more appropriately, personality, is his inability to say a ‘no’.
Will you open the innings? YES.
Will you be the wicket-keeper and bat at 4? YES.
Will you captain the side across formats? YES.
Will you bat a bit lower today? YES.
Will you turn your arm over for a few overs? YES.
Self-admittedly de Villiers has a pretty disturbing back and as such hates to keep wickets. Time and again he has hit out in public stating that he hated to keep with the injury-prone back of his but with Mark Boucher retiring and de Kock still passing his high school exams, South Africa turned to de Villiers umpteen times.
The entry of de Kock brought an end to the fiasco but even then the moment the swashbuckling southpaw was injured, South Africa turned to de Villiers instead of scouting the domestic circuit. Despite him stating multiple times that he hated to keep, he did so every time he was asked to.
Team man? Absolutely yes, but a smart player? Absolutely no.
The one problem with de Villiers could be that he doesn’t realise how valuable he is to the Proteas. Injuring his back by keeping wasn’t going to help him or the team. Yet it was always ‘yes, yes, yes’.
The sabbatical of one year he took from Test cricket was as such surprising just because de Villiers isn’t the kind to state he is unavailable due to personal reasons even for a match. Many, including Faf du Plessis, thought he had retirement plans in mind and this made perfect sense.
Yet he promised a comeback and this essentially seemed like a different de Villiers, one who had learned to stand by his mind and say a ‘no’ when it needed to be said.
But no. He returned to Test cricket in a four-day match against Zimbabwe and with Faf du Plessis injured, was asked the inevitable question – Will you skipper the side?
Out came the inevitable reply, YES.
de Kock was injured mid-way through the Test and de Villiers ended up skippering, a responsibility he had given up earlier and keeping in his return to Test cricket.
He dominated the Test series against India with some fabulous cricket and the World was grateful for witnessing de Villiers’ talent one another time. As Australia set foot for a four-match Test, South Africa knew that, with their faltering batting line-up, AB de Villiers would be more important than ever.
He was. On day 2 at Durban, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc sliced through South Africa’s batting line-up with the ease of cutting through an overripe banana but one man stood unfazed, unperturbed and concrete. De Villiers.
He danced out to Nathan Lyon like a ballerina and countered the off-spinner on a slowish Kingsmead wicket with the disdain of a sub-continental batsman who grew up on these brown tinged surfaces.
When Mitchell Starc stormed in from around the wicket and reverse swung the ball at menacing pace, de Villiers played him nonchalantly while the rest crumbled.
A truly fearsome Starc sent back Faf du Plessis and Theunis de Bruyn in his second spell and returned for a third late in the day with de Villiers still standing amidst the ruins like a rock.
Vernon Philander has been amazing with the bat in recent times, so much so that Ottis Gibson has had little hesitation asking him to bat no.7 in Tests.
Against Australia, the hosts knew they needed more firepower with the willow and brought in an extra batter, Theunis de Bruyn. But Philander was still crucial to them. At 150/6, South Africa’s hopes rested on how well the seaming all-rounder could assist AB de Villiers.
Yet three balls into Starc’s third spell – every single one of them inducing a false stroke – Philander was caught fishing outside off-stump and promptly edged to Quinton de Kock. Poor de Villiers could only watch from the other end as he had no way of getting to the other end with Philander facing the first ball from a returning Starc.
When Keshav Maharaj walked in, most thought de Villiers would look to harbour strike. Yes, Maharaj was truly capable of holding a willow but this was Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc steaming in with a deadly old ball.
First ball of the next over and de Villiers nudged and set off for a single non-hesitantly. Two balls later he watched as Josh Hazlewood rushed through Maharaj’s gate and cleaned up his stumps. In walked Kagiso Rabada, often touted as a better batsman than most acknowledge him to be. Yet, good enough to counter Mitchell Starc in Wasim Akram-mode? NO.
Definitely, de Villiers doesn’t think so for when Rabada squeezed out a shot to mid-on off the final ball of Hazlewood’s over, de Villiers bluntly said ‘yes’ to a single. In four balls, Starc scythed through Rabada and Morkel to put an end to South Africa’s innings.
de Villiers, all class, batting on a completely different wicket to his mates and seeing the red cricket ball in the size of a football, stood unbeaten, on 71 off 127 balls.
Could he have said a ‘no’ twice to his tail-ender partners who had immense belief in their batting abilities and added a further 20-30 runs? YES.
Would those few runs have made a difference? Probably not, but this is cricket where every single run comes back to haunt you at times.
It was such a pristine innings from de Villiers, so sublime and out of the world that you almost wished he could face every ball. Yet, all he faced was eight balls of the 39 that were bowled after the dismissal of Quinton de Kock. It is completely understandable if he had hogged strike, gone for his shots and gotten dismissed like at Cape Town in the second innings against India.
He faced just 8 balls since de Kock's wicket. Allowed singles off the last ball twice, left the sixth ball once , defended without intention of taking a single once, took a single off the first ball once….all of this in just 39 balls since de Kock's wicket. #SAvAUS
— Rohit Sankar (@imRohit_SN) March 3, 2018
But ‘nice’ de Villiers was too ‘nice’ to say a ‘no’ to his beloved tail-enders. As such, several of us watched in disbelief as he threw his helpless men to the starving lion and remained beaten, yet unbeaten. To turn into a true great of the game, de Villiers needs to realise his own greatness. Period.