Cricket has been a religion in India since ages, worshipped in all nooks and corners of the country irrespective of state, language and religion. Indian cricketers enjoy a huge fan following, especially batsmen who enjoy the cream of the devotion reserved for sportspersons in India. It is very difficult for Indians to accept the defeat of the Indian team in any format of the game, more so when the match is held in India. From the bygone era of Kapil Dev to Sachin Tendulkar to the modern day champ Virat Kohli, Indian cricketers have enjoyed the love of Indian fans throughout the world. There have been very few cases where Indian fans have showered love and respect on a non-Indian cricketer . Gilchrist is one name that immediately comes to the mind, Jonty Rhodes another one. And then there is Abraham Benjamin de Villiers or simply AB de Villiers.
AB de Villiers is known for his unique batting style and his unorthodox shot playing abilities. What made him a favourite among Indians is his humbleness both on and off the pitch coupled with the ability to send any ball across the boundary ropes. Indian Premier League helped many international cricketers like Chris Gayle and Brendom Mc Cullum tap into the hearts of the Indian fans, possibly the largest fan following in the whole world. But something about AB de Villiers clicked with Indian men and women alike. The highlight of AB de Villiers playing in India in the Proteas jersey came in the 5th One day match held in Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in the 2015-16 South Africa tour of India.
25th October, 2015 was the day when South Africans scored 438 batting first. The crowd at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai has been ardent India supporters. AB de Villiers came on to bat after de Kock had completed his century and du Plessis was on his way to complete his ton. The 57 ball century which AB de Villiers hit in Wankhede was cheered by the Indian crowd. Every boundary hit was received with cheers for AB, the only other person for whom Wankhede had cheered so hard in the past is the God of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar himself. The reception de Villiers got at Wankhede made even the Indian players wonder about the affiliations of the crowd in the stadium.
It is very difficult to explain what made us connect with a South African born and raised cricketer who enjoys hitting Indian and every other nations’ bowlers outside the park. Was it AB de Villiers humbleness or the way he speaks Hindi or the way in which he warmly accepts India as his second home, it is hard to tell. But one thing is for certain AB de Villiers has made an everlasting impact in India, his popularity is at par with that of other Indian players if not more. His shots get copied in the streets of small villages to matches at the national level. AB de Villiers is and will continue to be treated as a legend in India and abroad. His decision to quit international cricket post the loss in IPL signifies the importance he reserves for his Indian fans.
We respect his decision to say goodbye even though we all wish to see him back in action, whether it is for the IPL or county cricket in the capacity of a player, coach or as a commentator. But for now AB can take his time and enjoy his vacation and have a good life ahead.
After all even Mr. 360 needs some time to relax, he after all has earned every bit of the respect and loyalty he deserves. A fine gentleman, a fantastic cricketer and teammate and the complete definition of a family man, Take a bow, AB de Villiers.