AB de Villiers will turn the Proteas from T20 World Cup place fillers to title contenders. His inclusion in the squad is critical, despite what unsophisticated rationale rooted in ‘patriotism’ will tell you, writes RYAN VREDE.
The equation really is that simple. De Villiers is that good. His inclusion completely transforms the complexion of South Africa’s challenge.
It’s not that the Proteas aren’t blessed with match winners. They are –Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and David Miller among them.
None of those players are as important as De Villiers. While they are incredibly gifted, De Villiers breathes rare air.
In addition to his technical ability and incredible temperament, De Villiers has a presence that few players in the game presently do, and few in its future will possess. There are players the opposition are wary of and have great respect for. The aforementioned quartet fall into this category.
Then there are players whom the opposition fear. This fear is rooted in a track record of consistent excellence and the knowledge that, no matter how good they are on the day, the player in question is impossible to restrain.
This is De Villiers’ value. Even at 37 years old, he occupies a place in the game few others have and will. And he is ours.
Despite retiring in 2018, De Villiers has an appetite to play in the T20 World Cup. There is no cricket argument for him not to be included in the squad for the tournament, and to play every match. There is only an emotional argument rooted in what, disconcertingly, many perceive to be a lack of patriotism.
His critics argue that he chose money over country. The reality is more nuanced, but even if this was a fair reflection of his motives, so what?
De Villiers served his country with distinction through 114 Tests, 228 ODIs and 78 T20Is across a 14-year career. He has scored in excess of 20,000 international runs, many of those with a breathtaking degree of skill, the likes of which we may not see in many generations.
In that time he sacrificed much, including things most take for granted, like watching his kids grow up and sharing in significant milestones of that journey, time with family and friends, among a myriad other sacrifices.
That he chose this path and was paid handsomely to make these sacrifices is a weak argument, and one that seeks to dehumanise him. That he is somehow guilty of sporting treason by choosing to monetise his gift to the maximum is a wholly more unsophisticated line of criticism.
Linking De Villiers’ patriotism to a career decision is a reflection of the critics’ old-world sensibilities. A modern work world is defined by a collection of individuals trying to maximise their earnings, while having the most fun doing so. The most gifted individuals in the collective command the highest fee, and exploit this unique gifting to their financial advantage. This is the way of the world.
Yet, somehow, for De Villiers’ critics this shouldn’t apply to sport. For them De Villiers should have sacrificed his mental well-being and financial future at the alter of national pride. He should have been grateful for a national contract which is a worth a fraction of what his earning potential was outside the restrains of that contract. He should have played until he one day could either not physically do so anymore, or until the public and media retired him to the scrapheap of once-mighty cricketers.
He, like so many South Africans who are simply content to have a job and lack any significant ambition beyond that, should have just accepted a mediocre existence.
Divorcing emotion from the cold reality of this situation is critical. The Proteas want to go to the T20 World Cup knowing they have a chance to win. De Villiers’ inclusion will allow them to do so.
Furthermore, De Villiers has nothing to prove and should not ‘earn’ his way into the squad. His performances in the IPL make it plain to see that he still has elite levels of competency. His powers have not waned.
The approach to this should be transactional, not emotional. From the Proteas’ perspective, De Villiers can help win a major trophy. De Villiers wants to play in a major tournament. The two meet at a point of mutual benefit.
It’s that simple. Pick him.