Spending time with his family, working on his technique and giving back to the young players at the Titans. These are all elements that helped AB de Villiers return in top form to Test cricket.
De Villiers came under much criticism when he announced in January 2017 he was to take an indefinite break from Test cricket, but he says it was a vital and proud decision that has helped regain his love and drive for the game.
In a wide-ranging interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly, De Villiers reveals that he was deeply hurt by the flak he received, especially after giving his country 12 years of devoted service.
‘I was going through a tough season and then when I tried to get away a bit, people started labelling me. It was difficult. To have people saying you are turning your back on your country and your team, that was difficult for me to take, especially after giving everything for 12 years. It was tough.’
De Villiers said he was particularly affected by the World Cup failure in 2015, when South Africa were beaten by New Zealand in the semi-finals, which led to him struggling with his game.
‘I had a really tough couple of seasons after that 2015 World Cup when I didn’t play as well as I wanted to,’ he said. ‘I lost my rhythm in my personal game and I started to ask myself some questions like, “Where am I going with my cricket?’’ All of those things played a role. My body started feeling like it was breaking down.
‘I knew I needed to be with my family a lot more and have a nice two-to three-month pre-season, work with the Titans and give back to some of the younger players, which I did. It was a fantastic few months.
‘I wanted to feel what it was like to be a normal, family guy, which is certainly not the case when you play for 13 consecutive years for the Proteas and also IPL and other tours.’
The pressure on players needed to be addressed by governing authorities, said De Villiers, who was accused of ‘picking and choosing’ his games.
‘It is a very difficult subject and it should be taken care of by the boards with a programme of games worked out for each player. They are starting to move in that direction. They understand that if certain players don’t play IPL and other tournaments around the world, they lose out a lot financially. The Aussies are pretty good at that – the players are pulled out of the IPL and so forth but they look after them financially. They get paid for not going to a tournament but only a couple of boards can afford to do that.
‘We all want to play international cricket – it is the ultimate form of the game – but where do you draw the line? If you play the IPL and then you’re not fit for a big tour afterwards, how do you handle that? The majority of players still want to play international cricket as much as we can, but we also need to optimise our careers. It is difficult, and I understand that. I honestly don’t know the answer.’
De Villiers is emphatic that taking the break was the best thing he could do.
‘I am proud that I did it. I took a lot of flak for it and that wasn’t nice, but I was true to myself and that was the most important thing for me and my family.
‘I am now in a very happy place. I’ve seen my youngsters grow up a bit and I’ve spent a lot of time with my wife in the last while, so I’m ready to give it the full-on again, for as long as I can. I have loved every second of my career and I’m happy that I was true to myself.
‘I am loyal to my country, I am loyal to my team, I have never ever faded from that. I have ever turned my back on my guys. I was selfless in giving myself a break, if that could ever make sense, but now I am here and enjoying myself.’
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