After another dismal outing at this year’s IPL, the fans of Royal Challengers Bangalore were disappointed that they wouldn’t see AB de Villiers in action anymore for this year’s edition.
Little did they know that a bigger disappointment lay in store.
AB de Villiers announced that he was retiring from all forms of cricket via a video that he posted on his social media platforms. Very little has gone right for Bangalore this season. They dropped a misfiring Chris Gayle who used the rejection to spur him on in his new team, the Kings XI Punjab. KL Rahul was inexplicably not retained in favour of Sarfaraz Khan, who did little to repay the team management’s faith in him. Though the Kings XI didn’t make it to the playoffs, KL Rahul is one of the top scorers of the tournament. Though RCB added Brendon McCullum to their arsenal this season, he was nowhere near the player who struck 158 off 73 deliveries in the first ever IPL match ever played. Bangalore was at the receiving end then.
What didn’t start too well didn’t end too well.
And now, Ab de Villiers too won’t be a part of the Royal Challengers line up come the next edition of the IPL. The team, which till last season boasted of one of the most fearsome batting line-ups in IPL history has a lot of rebuilding to do.
When Sachin Tendulkar was going through a very lean patch, he got booed off at the Wankhede Stadim, the place he called his second home. Javed Miandad played his last ever international match against Indian in the famous 1996 World Cup quarterfinal that Pakistan lost after Aamir Sohail’s wicket put brakes on their hurried chase. But what happens when Ab de Villiers came to bat in Bangalore during South Africa’s tour of India? The crowd chants his name.
When some players come to the crease, there is a rush of blood to the head. Anything is possible.
Will AB de Villiers run to the offside just before the bowler is about to release the ball and transport the ball over the fine leg boundary?
Will AB de Villiers go on bended knee and loft it over the keeper? If he misses, it will ram his neck or worse, his face.
Will AB de Villiers almost topple over in his quest to deposit a yorker that is sliding down the offside over the square leg boundary for an audacious six.
Will AB de Villiers come down the pitch and deposit the rising ball to the midwicket boundary?
Will AB de Villiers conjure a catch out of thin air and land within what looks like centimetres from the boundary line?
Will AB de Villiers turn left handed and smash a six over third man?
Will AB de Villiers score the world’s fastest double century, triple century, today?
Indian cricket fans got to see de Villers mostly in the Royal Challengers Bangalore jersey. Though his heroics couldn’t propel them to an IPL title, he found a second home for himself. Fans may have hoped to see him stay on till the 2019 World Cup and help South Africa break their never ending 7 year curse that has been thrust upon them when it comes to World Cups and international tournaments. But not everyone’s desire for glory can be stretched to near infinity like Sachin Tendulkar’s, who faced disappointment 4 times before finding glory in his fifth and final World Cup. Fans will recall the epic 2015 World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa that was won by New Zealand, courtesy a Grant Elliot six in the last over. One of the most enduring images of that match is of de Villiers hunched down on the pitch with Grant Elliot and Daniel Vettori sharing a hug in the background. Most of the South African side were in tears after the match and it would be safe to say that most cricket lovers shared their sorrow.
The great Imran Khan retired in 1987 and was requested by President General Zia-Ul-Haq to return. He ended his career by leading Pakistan to their only World Cup victory to date in 1992.
After losing more tournament finals than he could take, Lionel Messi shook the sports world by announcing his retirement from international football in 2016. Thankfully, he went back on his decision and will again look to work his magic in the upcoming FIFA World Cup.
Frustrated by injuries and lack of motivation, Javagal Srinath announced his retirement in 2002 before being coaxed out of it by Sourav Ganguly. He returned to lead the bowling unit in the 2003 World Cup, taking no less than 16 wickets himself before the side ran into Australia in the finals.
Will de Villiers do a comeback act in the coming months?
As Stepehen King writes in The Shawshank Redemption, Hope Springs Eternal.
AB de Villiers could defy gravity, logic and geometry even. He could twist and twirl and play shots that boggled the mind. Just weeks before his retirement, he pulled off one of the most audacious of catches in IPL history. Unlike his good friend Virat Kohli, whose excellence is tempered with large quantities of swagger and emotion, de Villiers went about reinventing batting without any aid of boorishness or truant machoism.
Cricket isn’t football. It’s a small game that is still decades away from becoming a world sport. Next year’s edition of the World Cup will feature only 10 teams, down from 4 compared to the last edition. This year’s FIFA World Cup will feature 32 teams. This means for the game of cricket to make more money and be profitable, the top teams will have to play each other constantly.
Virat Kohli’s quest to get a measure of the English conditions prior to the much awaited tour of England has already run into rough weather. Incessant playing has meant he has been carrying injuries that he needs to recover from, making his conquest of English conditions even more difficult. The in-demand modern cricketer has to straddle 3 formats, playing for his country and playing for leagues around the world to secure his future financially. Burn out, mental and physical, is a price they have to pay for this year round roller coaster ride that they are put through.
De Villiers could have been lost to golf, rugby or football, other games that he excelled in. That he chose cricket was a small miracle in its own right. But an International Cricket Council that has always danced to the tune of the BCCI, its biggest revenue generator, shows no signs of addressing this thorny issue. Work-life balance isn’t the prerogative of only the lab rat in a maze corporate executive.
Richard Bach, for all purposes, is a corny author. One of his most famous books is Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story about a seagull who wanted to fly high above from the rest of the flock who were content to eat and merely exist. His quest to test barriers takes him on a journey that sees him break limitations and pre-conceived notions of what a seagull could accomplish. It is strewn with quotes such as:
“He was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all”
“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding. Find out what you already know and you will see the way to fly”
It has become a cult book and a self-help classic over the years.
In a strange way, Ab de Villiers is a lot like Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
The term used to describe him is 360 player. That is as dreary a management term as there can be.
Have you ever sat through any of them and come out feeling like a million bucks?
Why would use the same term to describe a player so magical?
In Michael Jordan’s hall of fame induction, Magic Johnson said of him – ‘he made you wish that for just one day, you could fly in the air.’
When you saw AB de Villiers in his element, he made you believe that you could walk on water. That you could fly. That all the limitations that you had were just illusions.
While excellence and greatness are measured in terms of infinity, things like time, motivation and desire are measured in finite terms.
Like earth seems a lot smaller when you look at it from above, cricket seems a lot smaller without AB de Villiers in it.