The Three Mistakes of AB de Villiers

On 23rd May 2018, 34-year-old AB de Villiers – ABD, Mr. 360, The Superman from Bela-Bela – announced his retirement from all forms of the game with immediate effect. At the time he posted his Twitter video, he could have in fact been playing the Eliminator of IPL 2018 at Eden Gardens if Royal Challengers Bangalore had managed to defeat Rajasthan Royals in their final league game. But perhaps it’s only appropriate that AB – often known as the most talented batsman to have ever played the game – retires a few days after yet another premature exit from a global tournament. His career, after all, is peppered with those moments.

Freakish fielding ability aside, AB de Villiers holds a lot of limited-over records. He is one of the few players to have retired with an average of more than 50 in both Test Cricket and ODI cricket. He holds the world record for the highest-ever strike rate for a 100+ innings – during his 149 (44) against the West Indies in 2015. He simultaneously holds the records for the fastest 50, 100 and 150 – of 16, 31 and 64 balls.

But even for someone like AB, amidst all the stunning numbers and achievements and imagery of shot-making, he might have a few regrets. Here’s three of them:

WHOLE NUMBERS

Owing to his stubbornness to shore up the South African middle order and curbing his natural ability, AB might have wanted more than 47 international centuries – 22 in Tests, 25 in ODIs – to his name. To put that into context, Virat Kohli already has more centuries in both formats. AB is nowhere next to Jacques Kallis as far as numbers are concerned, and that might have hurt his legacy in the long run – despite his willingness to take on more responsibility for his country, captain the sides, be the interim wicket-keeper and be at the forefront of every great victory and tough loss. Even for RCB, AB mostly bats at 4 – a position lower than he should be at. In the last few years especially, after the sapping exit from the 2015 World Cup, AB became more of an accumulator and finisher in ODI cricket instead of the free-flowing, all-around, madly adventurous batsman he can be. There was no flash brighter than AB’s in the middle, but the pressure of greatness got all too much for him over the years. “Tired” is the term he used, when announcing his retirement.

WORLD CUP DUCK

AB’s teams have won home and away in Test cricket and bilateral ODI cricket more than any other team of the modern era. But nobody wanted to win the World Cup more than AB de Villiers in 2015. And 2011. And 2007. South Africa are yet to win one – notorious for their “choking” on the big stage when it mattered the most. AB has been one of the most successful batsmen in World Cup history, scoring runs across all three World Cups. He averaged 90 in Australia in 2015, but his tears said the story when South Africa again crashed out to New Zealand – this time, in the semifinals, after being the favorites for almost all of the match. The exit to New Zealand in the quarterfinals in India in 2011 was almost as painful, while the demolition by Australia in 2007 will make sure that AB goes to bed tonight with some regrets. If anything, a batsman of his stature – his ability and gifts – deserved the recognition of a major global ICC title. But South Africa had other ideas. What are the odds that they nick one next year in England now that he’s gone?

T20 FATIGUE

For a man whose scoring ability might have made him a monster in the shortest format, AB de Villiers averaged a curious 26 in International T20 cricket for South Africa, with no centuries and 10 fifties over 78 games. He failed to get going on the World T20 stage too – a stage where the younger likes of Virat Kohli, Joe Root, and Steve Smith took over as ‘versatile’ all-format players. AB, however, was loved the most in India for his T20 exploits in IPL cricket for a team that, once again, are notorious underperformers. Kohli’s RCB has never won the IPL title either – another trophy that has eluded AB de Villiers, despite his heroics for the team in the middle overs.

Rahul Desai: