de Villiers has risen through the ranks to become one of the world’s finest batsmen, most versatile batsmen, across all formats. When on song, de Villiers has the ability to take any bowling attack apart with his wide array of strokes on either side of the wicket. If his orthodoxy is compact and aesthetically pleasing, the South African avant-garde’s trailblazing innovation often rendered bowlers speechless.
His supreme ability caught the eye of the selectors as he was fast-tracked into the national squad as a raw 20-year-old in 2004. He made his Test debut in the home series against England in 2004 and exhibited his class with a sublime 52 in just his fourth innings with the bat, saving South Africa from what looked like a certain defeat. He also registered his first Test century in the series – a fluent 109 on his home ground in Centurion. In short, he’d wasted no time and had shown the world his capability immediately.
Having played both as an opener and as a lower-order wicketkeeper/batsman in his first Test series, he soon proved his worth by amassing 460 runs in his first away tour to the Caribbean Islands in 2005. A slump in form ensued – de Villiers battled for runs against Australia both at home and away – he had to wait until the home series against West Indies in 2007-08 to again reach the three-figure mark. However, he made up for the lost time, spanking a fine 217 against India in Ahmedabad, the first South African player to hit a double ton against India.
It was plain sailing later on for the flamboyant right-hander as he scored runs for fun. It included a superb unbeaten 278 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in November 2010, briefly placing him at the top of the ladder for the highest individual score by a South African batsman before Amla’s 311* at the Oval less than a year later.
de Villiers continued to grow in stature and improved his batting technique such that in addition to having the mainstream attacking game, he developed an impenetrable defence with a karate-style back-and-across trigger movement, and the late-block, which could be extended into the all-important check-drive to counter late movement off the pitch and in the air. This non-committal technique ended up making him one of the finest batsmen of the age. A compact defensive technique to stave off misbehaving balls on a minefield and a plethora of strokes in his armory to thrash the bowlers on truer wickets – AB de Villiers, the batting monster, had arrived.
Nevertheless, as great as things were in terms of individual performances, off-field events often seeped into his game. Following South Africa’s exit from the 2011 World Cup, de Villiers was named as the captain of their ODI and T20I team in June. Owing to the workload and pressure, he gave up the T20I captaincy in early 2013 but continued to play as South Africa’s main batsman and their first choice wicket-keeper.
Apart from his attacking strokeplay, de Villiers exhibited his ability to play the situation and conditions as well. With South Africa struggling to save the Adelaide Test against Australia during the tour Down Under in 2012-13, de Villiers curbed his natural instincts and dead-batted his way to a 220-ball 33 in one of the more exciting draws of all time, along with his partner-in-crime, Faf du Plessis. In the next Test at the WACA, his alter-ego showed up and he brutalized the red cherry on his way to a brisk 169 from just 184 balls as South Africa ruthlessly triumphed over Australia in their own backyard.
The face of innovation in modern-day cricket, AB’s achievements in the limited-overs game are more qualitative than quantitative. Nevertheless, every so often, an innings of such outrageous audacity comes along that the maverick of AB stands out even on a dull, number-loaded scorecard. Ramps over the wicket-keeper, cheeky paddles past short fine or the audacious reverse sweeps and reverse-pulls off fast-bowlers, and countless other never-before-seen stunts have left bowlers, and by extension, even commentators dangerously breathless and short of words. Unquestionably, with his ability to maneuvre the field, his excellent hand-eye co-ordination, and his ability to cause the illusion that the bowler has bowled a poor ball, makes him a revolutionary in the modern game.
Case in point: On January 18, 2015, de Villiers smashed the West Indies bowlers to all corners of Johannesburg (and perhaps a few just about clearing the area code) en route to a record 31-ball 100 against a hapless West Indies line-up, beating the previous best in ODIs by five deliveries. The 44-ball 149 (yes, you read that right) included 9 fours and 16 sixes – it only took him 44 balls to equal Rohit Sharma’s record tally of 16 sixes in an ODI. Donning the pink jersey, AB milked the bowlers in an unparalleled display of butchery.
AB de Villiers took 11 catches against Pakistan in Johannesburg in the 2012-13 season, equalling the record for most number of catches by a wicket-keeper in a Test match. He shares the record with former England keeper, Jack Russell. He also scored an unbeaten 103 in South Africa’s second innings, becoming the first wicket-keeper to score a century and claim 10 dismissals in a Test. His batting antics coupled with his ability to pull off incredible catches and run-outs, and his cat-like reflexes on the field, make him one of the most valuable players in the modern game.
In December 2013, at the peak of his powers, de Villiers became the ninth batsman to top the batting rankings in both Tests and ODIs. He also had a wonderful three-match Test series against Australia, where he finished as the second highest run-scorer. He continued to do well in both Tests and ODIs and ended 2014 as the second-highest run-getter for South Africa in both formats, behind his team-mate Amla.
During the 2015 World Cup, in the match against West Indies, de Villiers scored 162 runs off 66 balls leading South Africa to their second highest total in world cup history (408) at the Sydney Cricket Ground. With this feat, he also became the record holder for the fastest 50, 100, and 150 in ODI history. He amassed 482 runs in the tournament and was the third highest run-scorer overall. His team’s campaign, though, ended in heartbreak once again, as New Zealand beat the Proteas in a thrilling semi-final in Auckland.
In early 2016, de Villiers took over the Test captaincy after Hashim Amla stepped down during the home series against England. However, an elbow surgery meant that this was the only Test series he played in the entire year, and in December, he decided to quit the leadership role, citing the reason that ‘the interests of the team must always outweigh the interests of any individual.’
After recovering from elbow surgery, de Villiers made a return to the limited-overs formats, but preferred to remain unavailable for Test cricket in an attempt to lighten his workload. However, despite sufficient match practice in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy, de Villiers had a torrid tournament as South Africa’s tryst with ICC tournaments continued.
A well-rested de Villiers made a comeback into the Test side against Zimbabwe in the Boxing Day Test in December 2017. He has made some commendable contributions since then, scoring invaluable (not to mention chanceless) runs on challenging surfaces and playing the gritty accumulator and the spine of the South African batting line-up in the subsequent home series against India and Australia. In the twilight of his career, the ever-so-versatile AB continues to be a vital cog in South Africa’s batting line-up – one without whom, they would be a more fragile unit. With proven credentials in all conditions, pressure situations, and across all formats, AB de Villiers is arguably the most complete batsman of his generation.
On May 23, 2018, with just a year to go for the 2019 World Cup, AB de Villiers announced a shock retirement from international cricket with immediate effect. ‘After 114 Test matches, 228 ODIs and 78 T20 Internationals, it is time for others to take over. I have had my turn, and to be honest, I am tired,’ de Villiers said in his sign-off from international cricket.
IPL through the years
What would have been the Indian Premier League if not for the presence of South Africa’s Superman, AB de Villiers? The 360 degree batsman is a crowd favourite – not just at the M Chinnaswamy stadium, but anywhere across the cricketing world. One of the few players who has been part of the extravaganza, right from its inception in 2008, it was only when he joined the Royal Challengers – ahead of the 2011 edition, that he truly became a fan favourite. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a success story at the Daredevils – his first IPL franchise where he spent his formative years. When the tournament was shifted to South Africa, owning to general elections in India in 2009, he smashed a superb hundred – 105 against the Chennai Super Kings in Durban.
The early promise of a big future had been laid as de Villiers ended the season as Daredevil’s highest run-scorer, with 465 runs at an average of 51.66. A below average season followed in 2010 and that led to the Daredevils parting ways with the dashing batsman. The Royal Challengers saw an opportunity and swooped down to get their target man, happy to break the bank with a 1.1 million dollars deal.
Since the, AB de Villiers has proved that each and every penny spent on him has been money well spent – both on the field and off-field. A crowd-puller, AB combined with India’s captain, Virat Kohli, to lead RCB’s challenge. He finished as the leading run-getter for his franchise for three seasons and was a constant name in the top-three run-scorers, ever since joining in 2011. While his versatility made him one of the best bats – across all formats of the game, his mere presence has come as a shot in the arm for RCB – who are still in search for their maiden IPL title. Now retired from all international cricket, AB de Villiers could well be the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle as RCB get ready for a shot at the coveted title.