Break ups can be messy things. Sometimes, we’re so co-dependant on the person that we just cannot imagine life without them. We cling on for dear life. We promise we’ll change. We try to work things out. Sometimes we even go for therapy. Then we take a break. We spend some time apart. And, before you know it, new habits form and we realise that life is actually perfectly fine. We can cope without the person who was our whole world.
It’s never easy, but sometimes people just out-grow each other. It doesn’t make either person a bad person, it just make them better off without each other. And sometimes, even the nicest person just has to admit: it’s not me, it’s you.
For years, AB de Villiers has been the Proteas’ whole world. He is one of the most extraordinarily talented players South Africa – and the world game – has ever produced. He averages over 50.00 in both Test and ODIs and has scored over 8,000 runs in both formats. His ability to switch between formats and versatility to adapt to match situations is awe-inspiring. Yes, South Africa’s Test team has had other very good, very consistent players, but De Villiers is special, a once-in-a-generation freak.
But the uncertainty that currently surrounds his future in the longest format of the game is a bit like a bad break-up. De Villiers, who has not played for South Africa since last year, insisted earlier this week that he will not be retiring from any format. The same day, he said he would not be available for selection for the Test series against New Zealand as he shifts all his focus to playing in the 2019 World Cup. Fair enough.
A day later, he announced that he would not be playing in the four-Test series against England later in the year, arguably South Africa’s biggest challenge since their tour to Australia in 2016. South Africa has an extraordinary record in England and the series is one of the biggest in world cricket. When platitudes of why Test cricket is so special ooze from the purists, this battle is always brought up. It’s the series that most of the best players in the world want to play, or so we’re told.
For the Test cricket fundamentalists, this is more proof that the longest format of the game is slowly having nails hammered into its coffin, but that is a simplistic view.
De Villiers is now 32 years old. He has achieved more than most in almost every format of the game. For most of us, 32 is young. For sports people, it’s bordering on being a fossil. Nobody can blame him for wanting to prolong his limited overs career and make as much money as he possibly can so that he (and his family) is set for life. And therein lies the rub.
There’s no doubt that De Villiers is genuine in his assertion that he wants to help the country win a World Cup. There is some doubt that he genuinely still wants to play Test cricket. Withdrawing from one of the biggest and most important series of the year is not something somebody who really wants to play the format does. Is it a coincidence that De Villiers has earmarked a return to Tests in the Indian series when he has a lucrative bat sponsor with an Indian company, the same company that sponsors India’s Virat Kohli? Probably not.
He has insisted that he will not be playing in the Big Bash League and committed to “scoring his runs with the Titans” before that series in order to ensure he is fit and ready to return. With the series likely to start in December and with him having been out of the format for almost two years, he might not have a choice but to prove his point by slumming it in SA’s domestic circuit for a few matches.
Nobody begrudges sports people making as much money as they can in the short careers they have. They repay the faith through the sheer thrill of watching them do things us mere mortals couldn’t even do in our dreams. Fans have no right to make demands of players – they are just doing their jobs. Fans do, however, feel the right to feel aggrieved when they feel they are being sold a porky.
Fear of breaking up often stems from co-dependence and fear. After the England series where South Africa were so routed last year, there was a lot of fear over what life might be like without one of the team’s star batsmen. But, and you might have to whisper this, over the last few months, the South African Test team has looked like they have coped just fine without De Villiers.
The demands on players in this day and age are indeed tough, but many players have found ways to cope, it’s what they are contractually obliged to do.
Lest we forget, De Villiers has a work contract with Cricket South Africa (CSA) Do we call our bosses up and tell them we’ll only be in the office every second Friday for the rest of the year? Of course we don’t. Much as your manufactured patriotism might want to believe that this is a matter of national pride, but don’t kid yourself. This is a job. And this is matter for HR.
CSA cannot risk setting a precedent. Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat has already said this week that they will not allow for this, but with De Villiers having done seemingly the opposite, they might need to make some difficult decisions.
We remember some relationships that end more fondly than others. When the time comes to officially break up, everyone would like to remember AB fondly. He is still the best batsman this country has ever produced. But bad break-ups are never remembered fondly, no matter how positively that relationship might have influenced us as people. Sorry AB, but it’s not us, it’s you. DM