AB de Villiers’ retirement feels to me like a slap in the face for all South African cricket fans.
Glorified as ‘Spiderman’ after his amazing catch for RCB on 17 May, AB has been transformed into ‘Venom’ in the minds of many heartbroken South Africans, while Indian fans send tributes to their ‘Cricket God’.
De Villiers was on the brink of retiring when he took a sabbatical from Test cricket last year, only to return again when he felt he was ready… but now he has pulled a full 360 by retiring from all formats of international cricket.
‘I’m tired,’ said De Villiers in his retirement video.
Personally, I’m still stunned by his announcement, but I surely can’t be alone in feeling that the South African public are tired too… of De Villiers’ cheek to do and say as he pleases.
I know this sounds incredibly harsh and disrespectful considering everything De Villiers has done as a Protea, but I’m sure many other South Africans feel they’ve been cheated out of the chance to give him a traditional sendoff after a swan-song knock in one final match.
Instead, he released a video on Twitter – a slap in the face to the millions of Proteas fans who would have relished the opportunity to chant ‘AB! AB!’ in unison one last time.
Subsequently, he had raised everyone’s hopes when he revealed his desire to win the World Cup.
‘I wanna do anything possible to get there. We haven’t lifted a trophy before. Yes, it’s important to play other formats but, mentally and physically, I want to be in a good space come 2019 World Cup,’ he told Radio 702 in January 2017.
‘It’s not easy. I have been a go-ahead guy. I have never wanted to miss a game for South Africa, and I still do. But it’s really tough to play all formats, especially at the age of 32, when most cricketers don’t go past 35.
‘Hopefully, by then I would still be fit, and will lift the trophy with the boys.’
Ottis Gibson’s appointment came with the heavy burden of leading the Proteas to World Cup glory and De Villiers was highlighted as the focal point of Gibson’s winning blueprint to bring the long-awaited cup to South African shores. Without AB we have to rely on new recruits who have barely had a taste of international cricket, putting an enormous amount of pressure on them to perform.
This all just seems so wrong, especially considering that he is in the form of his life, and seeing the ball as good as ever by all accounts. The way he has performed in the IPL proved that he has plenty to offer the game and is still the most dangerous player on the planet. He scored 580 runs in 11 innings for RCB in 2018, with an average of 54.33 and a strike rate of 174.54… and showed no sign of fatigue. Hence the shock of his announcement when he knows what is at stake for the country.
Having gotten all of that off my chest, I feel I must balance the books by paying tribute to De Villiers, who has been a phenomenal soldier for the national side. He did us proud, he changed the game, he lifted us to new heights and played a crucial role in South Africa embarrassing the Aussies in a first Test-series win on home soil since 1970. Yes, in our frustration and confusion we are still left feeling that he owes us one last swansong but, let’s be fair, we owe him for all he has done for the nation.
And, if we look for the silver lining in all of this, De Villiers’ departure could – as he himself mentioned in his farewell clip – pave the way for new players to make their way into the Proteas side and to follow his lead and play with greater freedom and assertiveness.
Everyone salutes you, Abbas, for the 14 years of dedication, passion and innovation you have shown while representing our proud nation. You have been a hero, a role model as well as a true inspiration to us all.
The era of a genius comes to an end and we pay tribute to one of the greatest cricketer’s to have graced the gentlemen’s game. Thank you for all the memories.
Photo: Philip Brown/Getty Images