AB de Villiers might not be South Africa’s new Test captain, but he continues to be one of the most universally loved and freakishly gifted players the country has ever produced. On Wednesday at the glitzy CSA Awards dinner, he scooped four awards in total. De Villiers was named SA Cricketer of the Year, SA Test Cricketer of the Year, SA Players’ Player of the Year and, by popular vote of the public, SA Fans’ Cricketer of the Year.
De Villiers is, without a doubt, one of the most well-rounded cricketers South Africa has ever produced. He is also, arguably, the best 360 batsman at present. A sports-crazy kid, who was freakishly good at everything from tennis to cricket, rugby to hockey, De Villiers is unmistakeably the blue-eyed boy of South African cricket.
De Villiers didn’t even take cricket seriously until he was 17. When he picked up the sport as young lad, it was just for fun. He joined the Colts school team and, although there was the possibility of it being a career, for De Villiers, it didn’t seem that serious. However, when he cracked the nod for the under-19 SA team, he was approached by the Titans and it all clicked: this could be his job.
De Villiers’ career has only blossomed since then. Since January 2013, he has scored 1,274 runs in Tests for South Africa, at an average of 70.77. Those knocks included six fifties and two hundreds. In one-dayers, he’s scored 1,163 runs at an average of 50.56 with seven fifties and three hundreds. His record in T20s has been far more modest, but he remains one of South Africa’s most talented exports.
As a 20-year-old thrown into the deep end with the national team, De Villiers would be the first to admit he didn’t know much about his game. A strange confession for somebody who seems so supremely, naturally gifted.
Although always an attacking batsman in his early days, De Villiers soon realised that he would have to adapt. Small tweaks from preparing more mentally than physically, training in shorter bursts and finding stability in the batting order all aided his approach. Even keeping wicket and getting a better perspective of bowlers’ plans helped De Villiers evolve into the superstar player he is today. De Villiers has flourished since taking over the keeper’s position and while there were initially doubts about how it would impact his batting, he’s shown that as with (apparently) all things for ABDV, challenges are merely opportunities.
Blending elegance, orthodoxy and invention is one of De Villiers’ many unique characteristics. His ability to adapt to whatever the situation requires makes him the perfect batsman, especially in Test cricket. He is as capable of blocking out a day and staying patient as he is going on the attack and taking the game to the bowlers. In limited overs cricket, his ability to adjust to bowlers faster than most can blink is another attribute that has elevated De Villiers to dizzy heights. Bowling to De Villiers is often like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded.
Even with so many plaudits bestowed upon him, De Villiers never stops working harder, though. Many will see him as close to being the perfect player, but he’s far more in-tune with what he is capable of.
“I’m certainly not an over-confident guy. I know that like all humans, I’ve got my weaknesses and insecurities. There are areas where I’m not as good as some of the other players are,” De Villiers recently said in an interview with the IPL website.
“You just try to hide and minimise those weaknesses and maximise and display your strengths. I am always very critical of my performances even though I don’t show it and people won’t know it. When I don’t finish games, I’m quite hard on myself and I don’t enjoy it when it happens that way.
“That’s probably part of the reason why I do succeed sometimes. When you’re disappointed, it makes that will to succeed so much bigger and you’re so much hungrier to do well. I still feel there’s a lot more room for improvement and there are still areas I can finish games better and win not only matches but tournaments. I will continue to dream. That’s what we humans are like,” he added.
He is now 30, with 92 Tests and 7,168 runs under his belt. If improvement is still to come, then De Villiers will almost certainly end his career as one of South Africa’s top three run-getters.
But it’s not only his batting talent that makes him such a great asset for the South African side. As a senior player, young guys entering the fray have much to learn from him. South Africa’s one-day cricketer of the year, Quinton de Kock, is one of his understudies. De Kock fits in the De Villiers mould of being both a wicketkeeper and an attacking batsman.
De Villiers is a trailblazer who will in future be considered as one of the players who changed the course of the modern day batsman. He is an invaluable influence in a team brimming with talent and, one day, he will be known as one of the greatest influences on modern-day batting. DM
South African batsman AB de Villiers plays a shot during the Super Eight stage match of the World Twenty20 tournament between South Africa and Australia at Colombo, Sri Lanka on 30 September 2012. EPA/HARISH TYAGI
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