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ABDV - The greatest test batsman?
His talent was clear to everyone who saw him for the first time in test cricket against England in Port Elizabeth. It is quite rare for talents to actually fulfill the promise they portray, but AB de Villiers has done that and how. Redefining what is possible on a cricket field as a batsman and fielder have become child’s play for the player who may go down as South Africa’s greatest ever cricketer. Due to his inordinate amount of imagination, some of his most memorable performances have been in coloured clothing for his country. Be it his 149 off 44 balls in the pink day match against West Indies, or his 162* of 66 balls against the same opposition in the World Cup of 2015, he has never failed to mesmerise the crowds. However, the perception of him being a 360-degree player has meant that he is not given enough credit for his batting or fielding in the holy grail of the game. Now with him retiring from international cricket altogether, after another spellbinding test series against Australia, a tribute is required for this champion of the game. Was he actually better in the test arena compared to the limited overs circuit?
Among the cricketing faithful, the view of batting in test cricket is that patience is a virtue to be cherished. “Leave the good balls alone, and wait to punish the bad balls.” The number of times the English great Geoffrey Boycott has said that in commentary could not be counted even if you are given a year. Yet, what separates the good from the greats of the game is their ability to hit even good deliveries to the boundary. Many times, bowlers have been left perplexed after being smashed to the fence, despite almost bowling a perfect delivery to de Villiers. His mentality to cricket, at least to me when watching him, is that he sees every ball as an opportunity. Forget the fear of failure, he looks at the ball as a chance to do something that he has not done before. The poker face he portrays often does not allow us into his mind, but it would be truly fascinating to see how a genius like him sees the ball when it comes out of the bowler’s hand. Sometimes this approach can get him into trouble and in the early part of his career, he was criticised heavily for seeming to give his wicket away. This is because he is not only the best player in his team but also the player on which their chances of victory rely on. With his recent performances against India and Australia, it now seems he understands that responsibility and relishes it. Sadly, we will never see him play for South Africa again with this shocking news at his press conference today. Please do what Michael Jordan did AB and come back.
In modern times, the rise of the “Fab Four” batsmen around the world has been documented hugely in the media. Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root are all captains for their country now and are extremely special cricketers in their own right. However, this bona fide phenomenon from South Africa is not given the same publicity despite arguably putting in more meaningful performances over the last decade. Furthermore, the way he adapts to the situation of the game is truly remarkable for a man of his ability. An innings which stands out was one where he did not even make a half-century. 43 off 297 balls in Delhi against India was a valiant effort to save the test match. It went in vain, but it showed the mental strength of his character and the enormous repertoire of his ability with a bat in hand. Even in the first test match of the recent series against Australia, while everyone else was falling around him quickly, he stood strong. This brought back memories of his 91 against Australia in 2014, where Mitchell Johnson wrecked havoc. There are numerous examples like this where de Villiers separated himself from the rest of the team. In my opinion, he has not only done that, but he has shown that he is in a different galaxy to every other player in the world. As much as that may hurt Kohli fans (I am one myself), it is a reality in my mind. It is now just a shame to not have the opportunity to see him bat on the international stage again.
Just as we were all getting ready to witness his magic playing for South Africa for the next few years, with a hopeful culmination as a World Cup triumph, AB has decided to hang up his spikes on the international stage. Thanks for the memories AB, you have been amazing to watch and in my lifetime, I have never seen a better batsman, especially in the test format.