It’s as simple as AB de. Anyone thinking AB de Villiers has a complicated list of goals left to achieve in the twilight of his career will be disappointed — for once — by one of the best cricketers of his generation.
“It’s very basic,” de Villiers said when asked what’s left. “Just to be part of a successful Test team.”
It’s that simple for de Villiers, who returned to Test cricket late last year after a break of nearly two years, and returned to the AB of old with 126 not out against Australia in the second Test on Sunday. He just wants to win a few more matches with South Africa.
De Villiers, part of South Africa’s team for more than 13 years, is managing his time at the very end of his career and took a sabbatical from Tests at the start of 2016, a break that lasted until December last year.
For the first time, there were murmurs of disapproval from South Africans, suddenly denied the chance to enjoy de Villiers’ batting displays that often put him on a different level altogether to those around him.
That was certainly the case in Port Elizabeth against the Australians, where de Villiers’ century on an arduous pitch was of such quality that the opposition’s reaction, not for the first time in his career, was tantamount to shrugging their shoulders and applauding.
“It was one pretty special innings and it seemed like he was batting on a different wicket,” Australia assistant coach David Saker said.
Ironic that de Villiers, often able to rise above the drudge of Test cricket out in the middle with a bat in his hands, became weighed down with the pressures of playing and all that comes with it off the field — traveling, training, media and sponsorship commitments, time away from a young family.
Being so good also meant that South Africa at times wanted him to play all formats of the game, be captain of the team, keep wicket and, of course, be the top batsman that he is. So he decided to step back for a little while.
It’s not that he fell out of love with Test cricket, de Villiers said, but rather fell out of love with the amount he was playing. No longer the 20-year-old making his debut for South Africa, he’s a 34-year-old husband and father of two boys.
“I’ve never lost my love for the game,” he said. “I was just tired of playing. I was just flat, physically, mentally. Quite a few other factors. I became a dad at the same time, all of a sudden two boys are around and I’ve got a family.
“There was just a lot that was going on in my life and I felt like I needed to breathe a little bit. I won’t say I lost my love for the game. I think that showed today. I’ve always loved playing.”
With time, the dyed blonde hair has gone, replaced by a more mature short back and sides. The trademark toothy grin remains, as do the marketable, flashing strokes all around the wicket. De Villiers still felt he had to prove himself again.
“You’re always just a couple of innings away from people saying, `Hold on, is he still good enough?”’ he said. “Those kinds of things were in my mind. I was very motivated to prove to everyone that I can still play the game.”
He can definitely still play. Happily for the game, the temporary break from Test cricket has produced a rejuvenated de Villiers who is ready for a little more. But even AB can’t bat time back over the bowler’s head and, at 34, his permanent break with all cricket isn’t too far away now.