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Making sense of ABD's premature retirement from International cricket

AB de Villiers

Just like AB de Villiers surprised one and all with his imperious batting, it is only fair that he signed off in trademark style as gaping fans looked on.

There were various stages to a fan’s response when one came to know about ABD’s retirement from all forms of International cricket and that too with immediate effect. First, there was disbelief. Gradually, as one managed to come to terms with what had actually hit the cricketing fraternity, there was sorrow.  However, there was light at the end of the tunnel as well. ABD will continue playing for RCB, many thought to themselves. As if it was any compensation!

Tired, are you kidding me?

Personifying the age-old adage of ‘Retire when people ask why and not when’, ABD’s exit has left the cricketing world shell shocked. It was coming many said, but that it would come so early, no one could have foreseen. 

It was just days back that ABD was see in full throttle in the IPL, taking the bowlers to the cleaners and plucking catches out of thin air. Alas! what could have gone wrong in such a short span.

When de Villiers took a long sabbatical from Test cricket between January 2016 and December 2017, even Protea Captain and his childhood friend Faf du Plessis conceded that he would be ‘surprised’ if ABD played Test cricket again.

The Superman went on to miss the two-Test home series against New Zealand, a tour to Australia and the series against Sri Lanka, only to back for the consecutive home series against India and Australia. He was timing the ball well, scoring consistently and was self admittedly in the best form of his life.

However, it’s not always about the runs you score or the athleticism you possess; once the hunger subsides, it very difficult to carry on. There comes a moment in every sportsperson’s life when you just know deep down that you are done with it. And regrettably, that phase arrived for AB.

His sabbatical did not seem to have helped in the long run. “I have had my turn and to be honest, I’m tired. This is a tough decision, I have thought long and hard about it and I'd like to retire while still playing decent cricket,” de Villiers said in the video posted from his official Twitter account.

The freak who could do anything

" If you look at AB, he has had a wonderful career, done freakish things in the game across three formats and he has been a great servant to South Africa,” England Captain Joe Root noted when asked ABD’s retirement.

Indeed, players like de Villiers grace International cricket once in decades. There was nothing that he could not do on the cricket field. The guy could blast a century off 31 deliveries and on another day, he could play a fighting Test innings, scoring 43 off 297 balls.

Following Mark Boucher's retirement, the Pretoria-born cricketer donned the keeping gloves for his national side as well. However, as fitness issues waxed, he had to give up that aspect of his game. Nevertheless, he still walked into the side on the basis of his game-changing batting abilities.

AB, who revolutionized limited overs batting and helped us see the game in 360 degrees, was also bit of a bowler. He bowled a bit of medium pace in his younger days. It was certainly not his strongest suite, but he has 7 ODI and 2 Test wickets against his name.

Dropping hints

ABD captained South Africa in their 2015 World Cup campaign, which was firing on all cylinders to begin with, but met a poignant end. The Proteas lost to New Zealand in the semi-finals and were knocked out of the tournament.  That day a heart-broken de Villiers walked off the field with tears in his eyes.

It was in August 2017 that he finally decided to step down as the Captain of the side, with Faf du Plessis assuming the responsibility. In hindsight, the seeds of his recent decision were sown right then. For if ABD was sure of playing the next World Cup, he would have probably retained the captaincy.

Last month as well, de Villiers started giving clues that he was considering walking away. Conveying that he had a few things on his mind, ABD said, "I'm taking it one game at a time. My ultimate dream is not to win a World Cup. I've changed my mindset. I feel it will be nice to win it, it'll be a bonus, but if I don't, it's not going to define my career. I've committed to all three formats last season and I loved every second of it. I'll take it one game at a time from here on."

And here was the biggest catch. It was always ‘everything or nothing’ for AB. So, if he could not continue playing the longest format of the game, he decided that he won’t play the shorter ones either.

"It would not be right for me to pick and choose where, when and in what format I play for the Proteas. For me, in the green and gold, it must be everything or nothing,” the legend said.

The art of letting go

When you have stayed at the zenith for the longest time, it is really hard to let go. Even the greats of the game have found it hard to accept that their glory years at the international level are behind them.

Kapil Dev dragged on for matches with the sole objective of breaking Richard Hadlee's then standing record for the most Test wickets. Even after being the best batsman of his era, Sachin Tendulkar kept playing despite a significant drop in his average at the fag end of his career.

From the current crop, Yuvraj Singh has been finding it hard to hang his boots despite it having become clear that he is probably not even half the batsman that he once used to be.

Be that as it may, ABD was never the one to care for records. When he decided to move on, he stood just a little more than 500 runs short of 10,000 ODI runs. Any other cricketer would have always had a temptation to play on and achieve the milestone, but ABD is called a great for good reason.

The 2019 World Cup too, is just around the corner. How many International cricketers would have had the heart to call it a day just a year before the big event? And that too, when the man was playing well and had no screaming injuries. But still, he must have known that it was time to quietly step aside.

And it’s not a trait that the 34-year old has picked up recently. Even in his early days, when he had played 98 Tests on a trot and was just 2 short of 100, ABD drew back from the series against Bangladesh in 2015, taking a paternity leave.

Road ahead

South African cricket is not going through the best of times. They may have defeated Australia in the recent Test series but all is certainly not well with the Protea set up. A monster that is raising its head time and again is the Kolpak deal.

Some time back, Riley Rousseau and Kyle Abbott ditched the team for financial stability and signed the lucrative deal. Given that his former teammate Morne Morkel had just called it quits from International cricket, only to subsequently sign a 2-year long Kolpak deal, de Villiers made no bones about his decision.

"It's not about earning more somewhere else, it's about running out of gas and feeling that it is the right time to move on,” he categorically stated.

In fact, he went a step further to set the right example for the youngsters and committed to being available for the Titans in domestic cricket. “I have no plans to play overseas, in fact, I hope I can continue to be available for the Titans in domestic cricket.” Instagram post

However, the Indian fans can afford to take a sigh of relief as the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise has assured that ABD would be seen in action in IPL 2019.

On the whole, ABD surprised one and all with his imperious batting and his groundbreaking shot making. When he finally decided to hang his boots from International cricket, it is only fair that he signed off in trademark style as gaping fans looked on.



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