The unmatched dexterity of AB de Villiers
AB de Villiers doesn’t reveal much through his stance. He aligns his feet metronomically before checking if his bat is held parallel to the ground. There is so much correctness in the way he waits for a ball to arrive, the aftermath often is a different image altogether.
If you are watching him bat for the first time, you might expect a full-blown forward defense or a drive through the line of the ball with picturesque footwork. His posture is a purist delight, but just the way you don’t expect to be taken aback with a rush when a flight picks up pace on a runway, this masterful craftsman opens up a different avenue of batting as the cherry leaves the bowler’s fingers.
He gets on his knees to fast bowlers, not out of respect, but to either paddle them behind the sticks or heave with a cross-bat. Or sometimes he just clears his front leg brashly (it appears so, but is always well measured) and smacks it wherever he intends to.
Cricket is meant to provide joy, raise the roof, get people on their feet with their eyebrows raised and voices smearing elation. There have been many cricketers in the past who have done it, and there will be more in the future. But the magnitude of thrill and excitement this South African provided with his unusual-yet-attractive stroke play, it may be a pretty high bar for many to catch up, even for the best in the business.
Forget watching him bat as a neutral or a supporter of his team, the very fact that he left his opposing team fans in splits is a testament to his wizardry, which went beyond the field of play, right into the hearts of fans.
As South Africa murdered the Indian bowlers at Wankhede (2015), an onslaught led by the man himself, people inside the stadium, for a split-second, forgot where their allegiances lie. Or perhaps, they realized subconsciously that they are here to watch good cricket, even if it came from the adversaries.
While his chants reverberated in full swing, Mumbaikar Rohit Sharma, who was on the ground at the closest receiving end of his brutality, started wondering where was he even standing. There are many perspectives through which you can view AB de Villiers, but his magic arts with a wooden willow connected on a different tangent with the watching world.
The many avatars of this mercurial genius
AB de Villiers induced fear in opponents regardless of the situation, format and venue. He can mount a gigantic wall of defense if his side needs to play out a day, or accelerate the innings twice as quick as necessary. Ask Jason Holder and his West Indies team about it, surely those two knocks in Johannesburg and Sydney provide nightmares to them to this day.
If you scroll back to his interviews, you’ll see him speaking about “Taking one ball at a time”. It is a suggestion we all receive in life, across all walks. It is one of the easiest said, and toughest to implement, but clearly, Mr. 360 mastered that level of patience.
If there is a ball in his arc there to be hit, he will go for it, and will back himself to perfect it. The return for his risk remaining so high is a reflection of his undying hunger for success, and aptitude which is comparable to just a few that have played this game.
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Beyond all that, it is hard not to like how humble he remains after causing a catastrophe to his opposing units. He will make it sound like he did nothing, nonchalantly deflect the attention somewhere else, and get back to his dressing room to prepare for the next assignment.
Not to forget his superman exploits on the field, the distances he covered and the catches he plucked out of thin air. More than the stunning one-handers and diving catches he picked up, it is his ground fielding that deserves to be talked about. Despite spending plenty of time as a keeper, he never let this side of his game take a hit.
The legacy of AB de Villiers
Terms like “bottler” or other equivalents are thrown around quite recklessly when it comes to him, or the great South African side of his generation which easily was the finest Proteas unit of all time. Long periods of consistency are often disregarded or trashed aside when it isn’t complemented by an ICC trophy or two, which is a sad reflection of society’s definition of success.
Undeniably, an ICC trophy is the highest achievement possible, but to brush aside the many years of sustained brilliance which South Africa showed, where De Villiers starred like a pole star in the night sky, is ignorance of the highest order. Success in team sports is never defined by a few individuals, no matter how good those two or three can be.
You often need a stroke of luck, which the Proteas never had. From failing to score 1 run in 4 balls in 1999, to losing with 5 runs to defend in 2 balls – plenty of clutch moments did not go their way, with one or the other person having a bad day. Well, that is how team sports work.
He played 114 Tests, scoring 8,765 Test runs at an average of 50.66; 228 ODIs, scoring 9,577 ODI runs at a 53.50 average and superb strike rate of 101.09; and 78 T20Is, scoring 1,672 runs at an average of 26.12 and strike rate of 135.16. They say numbers don’t lie, and they definitely don’t in this case.
AB de Villiers redefined audacity and innovation in a generation where people seem to be running out of ideas. He has had his share of downward slopes, but the reception to which he walks out to bat is a clear indication that he is a permanent resident in the hearts of a million. That’s the trophy acting as the centerpiece of his cabinet, also explicating his legacy to the coming generations.