Sport360's Stuart Appleby looks back at the glittering international career of AB de Villiers
As one Tweeter emphatically and rather impressively put it, ‘With AB now gone, Cricket will now start with a C’. It was a spot-on assessment.
The explosive batsman was not just ahead of the game in terms of his initials, he was among the chief pioneers of big-hitting, fast-scoring and crowd-pleasing knocks, in such a way that it took T20 and ODI formats a while to keep up initially.
Cricket is now a poorer place for his retirement. If only Cricket South Africa could have refused AB de Villiers‘ resignation from the international game.
Ultimately, it is a bombshell, disappointing and perhaps unexpected given last August, less than a year ago, he had recommitted himself to playing in all formats for his country.
The toil of 14 years at the top-level of a game which is as mentally draining as it is physically, fatigued De Villiers and was his dominant reason for ending his Proteas career, though he has insisted he did not make the decision to give him more time for lucrative T20 paths.
Playing for a nation in which board interference and controversy is never far away from the surface, could be another factor. Being a South African international cricketer has never been as easy as turning out for England, Australia or indeed India – because despite the fanatic fanfare in the subcontinent – players are well looked after and not dragged through the politics above them.
The 34-year-old, who captained his country to the semi-finals at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup as the Proteas went down to New Zealand, made reference in his 2016 book that the powers to be selected Vernon Philander over Kyle Abbott for that match to just fill a race quota.
He leaves the game ranked as the number two batsman in ODIs and quite rightly has a claim to being one of the greats of the format, given that he is the only batsman to have played 50-plus ODI innings and maintained both a 50-plus average and 100-plus strike rate. It’s a crying shame a record like that won’t have any silverware to go with it.
It is an anti-climax if ever there was one for him not to fulfill that World Cup promise he made himself, and that to coming from a man who in January of this year declared he was in the best form of his life.
Those words were no shot in the arm. He went onto score more Test runs (211) than anyone else during South Africa’s 2-1 series win over India, and was a star turn, averaging 71.17 from eight innings, as the Proteas romped to a 3-1 success over Australia in a series remembered for the ball-tampering scandal. That will stand as the second-best ever finish to a Test career, following Brian Lara’s 89.60 average in his last series against Pakistan in 2006.
In this year’s edition of the IPL – scores of 90*, 72, 69 and 68 did not make his form as impressive as his vintage 2016 season in which he plundered 687 runs – but he still, despite a disappointing campaign for Royal Challengers Bangalore, looked a cut above most.
Tiredness, as he put it, for a cricketer that is in a strong enough financial position and a household name commercially to manage his schedule down to the most finite details, seems a bit of a cop out. That said, who is anyone to question De Villiers and a man who has 20,014 international runs in the bank?
To put those run-scoring feats into context, since De Villiers’ Proteas and Test debut against England at Port Elizabeth in December 2004, only Kumar Sangakkara (21,437) scored more international runs between then and now.
De Villiers deserves respect for the way in which he has fronted up and been brutally honest about how he felt he had no more in the tank to combine all his commitments. In a sense, he has shown the game immense gratitude for doing that.
His international cricket was indeed closer to the backend than the start, still there is a great degree of sadness and a feeling of an end of an era now. Fortunately, we will still get the chance to watch a player – who almost single-handedly created 360° degree shots around the wicket – in franchise-based cricket.
But, for now, let’s not look too far ahead and just remember the good times. Indeed, there’s no better time to re-YouTube the fastest ODI hundred of all time, off 31 balls, he scored against West Indies in Johannesburg in 2015.
It has been some innings, AB.