Yes, I love the man.
Back in the mid-2000s, when Indians had realised there was more to the Internet than DesiBaba, a new video game arrived in the market. EA Sports 2004 featured cricketers with strange names like Yevray Singh and G. Gemphir. In the game, you could score 500 runs in the stipulated overs, even if the graphics looked like they were designed on a potato. Every ball could be hit for a six, every over could produce 30 runs.
EA Cricket 2004 is the closest one can come to describe the batting of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers. There is the sublime skill of Kane Williamson, the ability of Kohli to switch gears, of Dhoni to bludgeon a cricket ball. But the sheer brutality of AB tearing into a bowling attack is a sight for the Gods.
AB announced a shock retirement from international cricket, and one can understand his reasons. He plays all three formats of the game for his country, apart from professional cricket around the world. In the coming months, South Africa have two gruelling tours with Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe coming up. Also, AB must have excused himself from the ‘last World Cup’ trap. Every time a World Cup is around the corner, former greats line up for selection, putting themselves up for scrutiny and humiliation - offering themselves up for selection. Yuvraj and Harbhajan Singh will go through it next year, as will MS Dhoni.
Reams of paper have been spent in describing the genius of AB de Villiers. But very little has been said of another aspect of the man. He is undoubtedly the most loved international cricketer. Kohli is revered in India but Aussie crowds like to get under his skin. Kane Williamson enjoys respect in most cricketing nations, but New Zealand is the Nakul of cricket. Dhoni does not enjoy a lot of fandom in Sri Lanka, and the reasons are understandable. But AB de Villiers’ charm works all over the cricketing world, and more so in India.
Anything for an autograph from AB. Image source: Flickr
So what makes me go gaga over AB?
The primary reason will have to be his behaviour. We Indians like our baalaks aadarsh. It is the reason we worship Sachin Tendulkar to this day. It is the reason Steve Waugh is never discussed in the same breath as the Little Master. AB never sledged, or got sledged at. He treated his game like a hardworking SBI employee who reported for work, avoided corruption, finished lunch on time, and wrapped up the work for the day. And the dichotomy between AB’s gameplay and his behaviour is hard to describe.
Aggressive players are usually loud-mouths. Kevin Peterson revolutionised batting in his own way, and never shied away from letting his opponents know what he thought of them. Hayden glared at you after smashing you above your head. Aggressive players came with aggressive demenours. But not AB. He was a marauder on the field, but take off the helmet, and he smiled like a retired chess player. And I like this about him. Our heroes do not lose sweat over fights. They smile, raise their collar, mouth a few lines, and smash their opponents - AB was the cricketing version of Chulbul Pandey.
Destroying opponents with style and a smile. Image source: Hotstar
Then there’s the matter of his fielding. We love good fielders. Fielding never came naturally to us. You could blame our genes that napped in the evening. Or the state of our grounds, where the grass is always greener in another ground. Since we were never great fielders, we revere those who are good at it. Ask any Indian fan what they think of Mohd. Kaif or Robin Singh, and you will always find respect in their tone.
And AB fielded like a ghost possessed. He flung himself at everything that came his way. It didn’t matter if the pitch was a dustbowl. Or if the match was well and truly lost - if the ball went to AB, he was diving towards it. And look at the love we shower on him! He gets louder cheers than Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. Chants of ‘AB, AB’ are made in the same tone as they were for Sachin. Or just look at how we behave with AB on Twitter - a place where we are on our worst behaviour. I looked at AB’s Twitter and couldn't find any trolls or hate-mongers. Just hundreds of replies from fans who love the guy with all their heart.
AB was the last of the generation. The last of the gentlemen. It’s a good thing India is the hub of international cricket, for we will still get to see him play once a year. But with his retirement, the last of the gentlemen has bowed out.
So long AB, and thank you for the memories!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com.
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: PTI