Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Greatest South African cricketers: AB de Villiers

If you've watched some IPL, you would have heard it before. A wicket falls, and then another. Then the cacophany of sound starts. You can hear it, "AB" "AB", "AB". Cricket is a game which can be a little boring. Even in it's most condensed form. You could argue that there are only a handful of superstars in cricket. Virat Kohli is one. Not only because of the fact that he is the face of cricket in the biggest market in world cricket, but his attitude, the way he carries himself. He stands a man apart there. AB de Villiers never quite carried himself that way, but he had that superstar quality. He walks in and the crowd is nearly in rapture. He hasn't even batted yet, and people are already excited.

It took five Tests for AB to confirm that there was substance to his promise. It must be noted that when AB made his debut on the 17th of December 2004, South African cricket was in a bit of rut. They were less than 18 months removed from a pretty abject failure in the world cup. More immediately they had just lost the away India series 1-0. The cupboard had looked so bare that Andrew Hall was opening. To be fair, he scored a century in India. But that was more a case of serendipity than any real foresight. The cupboard looked bare, and CSA didn't even have a place to put hope. Which was just as well because they probably didn't have that, given the fact that the likes of Zander de Bruyn and Martin van Jaarsveld were getting capped. Honest cricketers, no doubt. But not the guys you look at when you hope for a future in cricket. Fortunately, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn debuted on the same day, with Hashim Amla having made his bow a few months earlier, and the world was changed. But this is about AB de Villiers.

AB de Villiers is the most exciting cricketer South Africa has ever produced. Cricket is a strange game, Test cricket anyway, in that the most marketable stars of the game are not the ones who have the most influence over a game. In football, strikers are disproportionately adored and loved, but that is because they have the biggest influence over a result seeing as they are tasked with performing a role tied to winning the game. In the same vein, In rugby, without an effective pack, most flyhalves are actually a little useless, but because they generally kick over penalties and are tasked with unlocking the backline, they are given a slightly elevated sense of importance. In Test cricket, it's been a little backward. Barring a captain making a poor series of declarations, it is bordering on impossible to win a Test game without taking 20 wickets. So bowlers should by that logic be the superstars of cricket right? Nah. Much like in baseball where a pitcher has a much greater influence on proceedings than any batter, for some reason, cricket has decided that batting is sexy. And my word, there is nothing more sexy than AB in full flow. He hits it long. He hits it in the most unorthodox places, and he is consistent. AB de Villiers managed to marry the visceral thrill of watching Jos Buttler with the consistent genius of Virat Kohli. Very few athletes in world sports marry style and substance. Roger Federer is one. AB de Villiers was another. His retirement leaves a hole in the South African middle order, as we lose our best batsman. Our best finisher. Our most senior batsman. To say he left a hole would be like saying Beethoven left a mark on music. There is almost literally no way we can cover the gap the great man left in less than a year, but we can write a blog post detailing how great he is.

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