Dale Steyn, who made his Proteas debut with AB de Villiers in 2004, has labelled his former teammate as ‘a genius’ and the inspiration behind the Proteas.
In a glowing tribute through an interview with Nagraj Gollapudi of ESPNCricinfo, Steyn was unrestrained in describing the loss of De Villiers, after he announced his retirement from international cricket.
‘If you ask any bowler, he would want to be challenged against guys like AB. I have always felt good playing against the best, so when you see one of the best players drop out of international cricket, it is a sad day, because the point of challenging yourself against the best is gone.’
Steyn described the frustration of bowling to De Villiers in the nets: ‘AB had three gears while playing in the nets’, he said. ‘Sometimes he would defend the ball completely under his eyes. When he gets into third gear, he will literally hit every ball in the sweet spot. He has the ability to make you feel completely helpless.’
The influence of De Villiers rubbed off on all players, said Steyn. ‘When you are in the company of greatness, there is only one thing to do: to raise your game. I actually sent him a message and said to him, I don’t think I would be half as good as people think I am if it wasn’t for him being in the team. Without him even knowing, he made more than half the players in our team excellent players.’
Steyn said that De Villiers was a hugely influential captain in a completely different way to Graeme Smith – ‘the best captain I played under’.
‘When AB came on as the captain, he showed signs of greatness, but his skills overshadowed his ability to lead the side. He challenged me, sometimes in front of other players, sometimes in front of the team. He wasn’t doing that to get a reaction out of me or to make me look like an a**e in front of others. It was for the better development of me. That is what we ask of each other in the Proteas side and it was led by him.’
AB set only one standard for his players, added Steyn: ‘That you give your best and you pay attention all the time. He would say: keep your eye on the ball and me. If you make a mistake, then it is fine. But if you make a mistake while not paying attention, while not being at full intensity, while not watching your captain, then that was inexcusable.’
Nagraj Gollapudi’s final question was: What has cricket lost?
‘It has lost the best. You get guys that are good. Then you get guys that are excellent. And then you get AB de Villiers.’
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