• There’s AB – then there’s the rest

    After yet another display of dreamy hitting by AB de Villiers, the cricketing world seemed to have run out of superlatives.

    The unbeaten 133 came off 59 balls for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. It was the second IPL hundred of his career. Swashbuckling Australian David Warner called De Villiers simply ‘the best batter in the world’, while New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum said, ‘He is a freak of nature. He is playing a different game to the rest of us.’

    For his part, De Villiers – who went into this IPL still haunted by South Africa’s semi-final defeat to the Kiwis in the World Cup semi-final – reckoned, ‘I won’t say this is the best I’ve played, I’ve played much better before but things went my way today’. Yes, 19 fours and four sixes his way.

    Sort of like that unbeaten 162 off 66 balls against West Indies at the World Cup and the 149 off 44 balls against the Windies at the Wanderers back in January, where he clubbed nine fours and 16 sixes.

    Typically humble, De Villiers reckoned after the latter knock that ‘today was an exception. Out of nowhere, you hit a couple in the middle and then you get a bit of luck behind you and you can do amazing things.’

    There is simply no doubt De Villiers is the best batsman in the world, across all formats. Chris Gayle will have his fans – particularly when it comes to T20 – but AB is the complete cricketer. He averages over 50 in Test and ODIs and his strike rates in both are nearly 55 and 100, respectively.

    He’s also taken Tests and ODI wickets as a bowler, snaffled catches as wicketkeeper and in the outfield, and effected countless breathtaking stops and plenty of run-outs. Plus, he is the Proteas’ ODI captain. The old-timers will tell you of rugby’s Frik du Preez that ‘hy’t gedrop, geplace, gescore and gebliksem’, but De Villiers’ all-round exploits far outreach those of the Springbok lock legend.

    And if social and some mainstream media would have you believe, AB has taken over the mantle of Chuck Norris.

    More and more frequently, after another breathtaking innings by De Villiers, we are being told the following: ‘He was shortlisted for South Africa’s junior national hockey team. He made it to the shortlist of South Africa’s junior national football team. He was captain of South Africa’s junior national rugby team. He holds six SA school swimming records. He holds the record in the 100m in South Africa’s junior athletics. He was a member of South Africa’s junior Davis Cup tennis team. He was South Africa’s U19 national badminton champion. He has a golf handicap of scratch.’

    This is being paraded as ‘fact’.

    The truth is that De Villiers is a natural ball player. He was a scratch golfer, but that has eased out to low single figures. He gave up tennis at 13 because he did not want to leave home to attend the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida and, yes, he was approached by the Blue Bulls to pursue a promising flyhalf career.

    For the rest, De Villiers took up his own story.

    ‘When I was very young, I started playing cricket in the garden against my older brothers, Jan and Wessels, and Martin van Jaarsveld [who later played for the Titans and South Africa].

    ‘I had to carry the water and, after a long day, they would finally give me my chance. I was a little ou and they were all in matric. They would try to intimidate me. The bat was actually too heavy for me, and I would rest it on the dustbin while they were walking back to their mark.

    ‘They battled to get me out and they would get so frustrated that they’d bowl a couple of beamers at me to see what I would do. Saturday games at our house were very competitive. My brothers were merciless. They were monsters. There were always a lot of tears – usually mine,’ he has previously said.

    ‘When I was 10 I decided I was going to do something in sport one day. I realised that was my way to go. My mum and dad are good at sport and I’ve got two older brothers who drilled into me how to play.

    ‘Every single game was unbelievably competitive. We’re very competitive, my mum most of all, and when we get on to a tennis court or golf course the family stops. That’s how I grew up, every single day of my life I was playing something, and from about 16 it was cricket. It’s part of the Afrikaans culture, playing it hard and doing your best. But it’s very important to stay humble. That was a big part of my growing up, not getting big-headed.’

    There is simply no chance of that happening. De Villiers is now 31 and getting better and better in all departments, although his batting remains on a different plane. He was asked by SA Sports Illustrated in 2009 whether he could see himself playing until he was 40. He replied: ‘No. Not to 40. There is no chance. I think there is more to life than just playing cricket for 25 years. I will definitely find the right time to retire. When I start my family I am definitely going to retire. I am not going to wait until I am 40.’

    Well, guess what. In the post-match presentation after that unbeaten 133 for Royal Challengers Bangalore, De Villiers wished all the mothers around the world a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ and his wife of two years Danielle, as a ‘mom-to-be’. The world in turn will be wishing the couple everything of the best with pending parenthood, but holding its breath that it doesn’t signal the beginning of the end of his career.

    This show still has a long way to run.

    This column appears in the current issue of Business Day/Sunday Times Sport Monthly.

    Post by

    Gary Lemke