18 January 2015, Johannesburg, South Africa. A player, who had just woken up from his feverish sleep was fresh on the pitch. 5th ball of his inning was bowled by Andre Russel. The ball was bowled in line with the heaps of the batsman and the length was just short. Normally, the bowler expects that it will be glided through the leg-side for 1 run. Since AB de Villiers was on strike, the normalcy did not apply here. He jumped a foot towards the leg-side and hoicked it over mid-on for four. The shot was enough to refresh AB de Villiers who later went on to scoop, pull, reverse sweep, reverse pull his way to a world record-31 ball century. Virtually, every technically sophisticated textbook was torn apart by amazing De Villiers.
Now retired, AB de Villiers first came alongside Dale Steyn in December 2004. His initial years were full of struggle as he could not cement his place in the team. Initially, he was bamboozled by Shane Warne, Mohammed Asif, Andrew Flintoff, and many others. The first sign of his geniuses came in 2007 when he smashed his way through 103 against Pakistan on a dry surface.
The wings of an uprising Superstar:
In March 2008, De Villiers scored 217 on a wicket, where the star-studded Indian batting line-up had collapsed for 76 runs. Three months later, he resisted the swinging conditions of England on his way to hammer 174. Until now, De Villiers had gained the stature of a senior player at the age of 24. The peak of his glorious 2008 culminated with a match-winning century in the fourth innings against the mighty Australian on Perth wicket, the fastest and bounciest in the world.
Until now, a South African prodigy, De Villiers rose to world fame in IPL 2009, with a counter-attacking inning of 105 not out. During the 19th over of Delhi Daredevil’s innings, De Villiers went down on one knee and swept a 136km/hr delivery of fearsome Flintoff for a huge six. This was the moment; the world knew that they are watching something truly special. Later in one IPL match, De Villiers smacked Dale Steyn’s middle stump fast Yorker for a six over cover. Mike Haysman in the commentary box shouted, “Here it is again, even Dale Steyn (the bowler) appreciates it with a smile”.
IPL and De Villiers had become synonymous:
ABD went on to make records after records in IPL. IPL and AB de Villiers had once become a synonym. He changed the T20 cricket on its head. Normally, when bowlers bowl, their expectation is to get hit in the area within 270 degrees of the batsman’s eyesight. All cricketing strategies, coaching manuals, field positions have been made based on this principle only. But, AB de Villiers said, “I am not gonna follow all this.” He turned the game on its head. Scoop, reverse sweep, reverse scoop, paddle sweep, reverse paddle sweep; you name an atrocity faced by the bowler and you will find AB de Villiers imprinted on it. Dale Steyn, the best bowler of his generation and De Villiers’ fellow countryman was hammered by him in IPL.
The international arena was blessed that ABD chose cricket:
But IPL was only theatre art for this maverick. His multiplex level drama enthralled international cricket for about 14 years. The genius saw lots of careers destroyed due to his art. When Mitchell Jhonson was at his peak, fresh on the back of breaking rib cages of players like Jack Kallis, Graeme Smith; ABD was the only one who stood out in the 2014 series vs Australia. In the last inning of the series, he stood up scoring 43 of 228 balls, a humungous effort if you know he was facing fiery Mitchell Jhonson. One of the most memorable test hundreds came in his last series when facing thunderous youths like Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, he went on to hammer 126 off just 146 balls, without being dismissed.
De Villiers’ mad scientist attitude converted cricket grounds into the planet of apes:
He was well admired among the conservative as well as a liberal spectrum of the cricket world. Though known for his outrageous shots, no one dared to call ABD a funky batsman. His initial training days involved learning all kinds of coaching manuals. He learned textbook straight drive, cover drive, hook, pull, sweep; virtually everything in a complete manner. When he was finished mastering these arts, the mad scientist in AB de Villiers woke up. Though he averages 50.66 at the Test level, ABD is mainly known for his fireworks in limited-overs cricket.
Madness? Yes, but there was a method behind AB’s Madness:
His outrageous and seemingly mad shots made him more popular than anyone in his generation. It would be wrong to say that captains had a hard time setting a field for him. It is better to say the captain did not know where he would hit. A captain’s dilemma, while De Villiers was batting, has been summarized by Naseer Hussain in the 2014 world cup match.
English captain Stuart Broad set the field for his Yorker specialist Tim Bresnan. The field was set in such a way that bowler would bowl a ball wide outside off stump on a Yorker Length. De Villiers just jumped across the pitch and swept the ball over deep square leg for six. Describing Broad’s mental state, Naseer Hussain said, “Whatever he does, Stuart Broad just stands and thinks, you can’t do this to my bowling”. This quote sums up oppositions’ mentality during De Villiers batting.
We have not started with his other credentials. ABD was a gun fielder with the precision and chutzpah in league with Jhonty Rhodes. His Athleticism made him an expert wicketkeeper and able bowler as well. De Villiers was the player who could bat anywhere from number 1 to number 11, field anywhere, play his shots in 360-degree direction, bowl when the team needed. He was a nightmare for the opposing captain and a gem to behold for his own. Happy retirement AB de Villiers.