It’s usually a sorry sight to see a great of his era readying himself to depart the game. There’s usually an announcement, following a period of speculation, that the end is nigh and the curtain is about to be drawn. Yet, with AB de Villiers, we might be about to witness a damp squib of an exit; it might be a tragic sight.
c. Hales b. Crane could well be de Villiers’s final dismissal in a South Africa shirt. Something has been amiss for a while now and it has been obvious for all to see. The explosive elan that we have all become so familiar with has evaporated from his game; AB looks a shell of his former self.
The 2015 World Cup semi final seems to be the smoking gun here. With a great opportunity to reach their first ever World Cup final, South Africa’s selection for the crunch games against New Zealand was at the mercy of politics and the lamentable quota system. A half fit Vernon Philander was brought in for an in form Kyle Abbott.
As if to rub salt into the wounds of their exit, Grant Elliot, the South African all rounder and naturalised Kiwi was the one to inflict the mortal blow. So much talent lost; so much talent wasted.
Things haven’t really been the same for AB, or indeed South Africa, since. An exodus of talent has taken up the Kolpak route into County Cricket fearing its imminent closure with the arrival of Brexit, most notably Abbott himself.
There was also a peculiar episode surrounding the Test captaincy, which was vacated mid Test series against England by Hashim Amla in 2015. de Villiers took on the role on a temporary basis; his sum total of two Tests as skipper was the remainder of that England series.
Whilst Faf du Plessis has taken over the Test and T20 captaincy, de Villiers has remained as ODI skipper and his leadership has been openly questioned in the media. During South Africa’s stay in England for an ODI series, the Champions Trophy and a T20 series ,his leadership has been insipid and uninspiring. Great players do not always make great leaders.
In his post match interviews during the T20 series, where he was standing in for the absent du Plessis, de Villiers looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than talking to Ian Ward. Nothing against Ward here, he’s a fine commentator, questioner and presenter, but de Villiers’s heart was so clearly not in it. He looks past caring.
He had already said some time ago that he was to skip South Africa’s Test series in England, which starts next week. It’s a marquee series and South Africa’s marquee player will be at home of his own volition. He was happy to spend six largely wretched weeks in Bangalore for a dismal IPL campaign earlier in the year, though.
He wants to return for the September Test series against Bangladesh. But he doesn’t want to play England… something is horribly amiss, not least because South Africa should be desperate to avenge the defeat they suffered at the hands of England in the 2015 series.
de Villiers is due to sit down with his bosses in August to map out his South Africa future. At 33, picking and choosing when he does and does not play, it could well be that he does not have one.
A sorry end to a sparkling career beckons. These things always come out in the wash, but it’s all too apparent that something has broken. AB is not playing with the heart, nor the panache, that he used to. If a T20 in Cardiff was to be his swansong, it was not the ending that his career deserved.
Cricket will be poorer without him.
By Miles Reucroft