Alan Paton in his iconic book “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1948) wrote about South Africa as “a great peaceful country in which the world will take pride; a nation in which each of many different groups will be making its creative contribution”. Of the handful international cricketers whose personal popularity extends beyond of the boundary of their homeland, AB de Villiers, the South African, certainly takes pride of place. Listening to the chorus around the entire stadium in IPL over the years “ABD”, “ABD” hardly surprised me. When he pulverised the Mumbai Indians in IPL 2015, Ricky Ponting, the great Australian batsman observed “That’s not luck, that is genius”. ABD’s dominance in IPL and the one day format has been truly phenomenal.
In IPL (2012), he stole 27 runs against a rampaging Dale Steyn, acknowledgeably the best fast bowler in the game, in the 18th over. He pulled the first ball for a low trajectory six over the mid wicket, the fourth into the leg side over the extra cover into the crowd. The fifth ball, outside the up stump; he stepped to the offside crouching down on one knee and then paddled the ball to the boundary behind the square leg. Dale, his compatriot, wrote: “AB is like mind reading blood hound”. The only batsman who comes close to such improvisation and mesmerising shot making would be Viv Richards, who could drive a ball pitched on the leg side to the cover boundary, moving away from the leg stump. ABD’s merciless demolition of Dale Steyn in 2015 reminds me of Alvin Kallicharan’s 26 runs against Dennis Lillie, possibly the greatest fast bowler in 1975, in the World Cup semi-final. Alvin could never repeat this magic but ABD is a different kettle of fish and disproves the well known adage: “History repeats first as a comedy, and then as a farce”. For ABD, it’s shots, shots and shots all the way.
Watching the way he lofted Sandeep Sharma for a six over extra cover yesterday when a blade of grass did not move, nor a fielder winked, it was literally surreal. He hardly moved his feet and pelted him, as if he was hooking a gentle spinner.
De Villiers in his exceptionally fascinating autobiography, “AB” recounts how at the beginning of 2008 he averaged 36.4 in 50 one day international with three hundreds. However, between 2008 and end of 2016 he averaged 63.4 in 141 one day’s international and scored 21 more hundreds. No one including Viv Richards have this kind of a career record. Possibly the only batsman, who comes closest to him is Virat Kohli. He attributes this phenomenal success to his coach who drilled into his ears the importance of “REPS” for succeeding in the long run. The R, in the acronym, stands for “Recognize the thin line between success and failure”, E to “Enhance key relationship”, P “Prepare for life after cricket” and S “Stay close to the cross”.
A deeply religious person, he pays fulsome compliment to Virat Kohli when he writes about his luminescent form in the last IPL: “He drives magnificently through and over the covers, efficiently clipping anything fractionally off the line through the leg side, brutally pulling anything remotely short to or over the boundary between square leg and long on. His abundance of skills was wrapped in a raw passion to score runs and more runs with vein busting determination to win”. Virat scored an un-imaginable and un-repeatable 919 runs in last IPL with 4 centuries at a strike rate 151.7. His partnership with De Villiers is the kind of stuff legends are made of in one day and T-20 day matches. The only partnership that comes closest is the partnership between Viv Richards and Collis King when they demolished England in the World Cup final 1979. Virat and AB are sui generis in this league of cricket.
Sitting on the breakfast table, De Villiers asked Virat at the end of the last IPL season, “How long do you think you are going to keep playing cricket?” Virat with eyes alight and a brimming smile replied, “I am going to play forever”. It’s a real irony that such incandescent talent is a bystander, when AB is regaling the audience, solo, in the T-20 musical. The run machine like Steve Smith, mocked at the shoulder injury alluding that Virat was faking injury after sustaining a nasty fall. While gentle banter and sledging are part of cricketing vocabulary, such graceless gesture of Steve stands in stark contrast with the mutual respect that the 3600 degree buccaneer and indefatigable dynamo provide to the milling crowd, who miss their symphony. As we do when Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin do not play in concert!
Prof. Misra is a cricketing buff