AB de Villiers spent rather a long time desperately trying to engineer a cake monopoly. He wanted to retain and eat The Cake of International Cricket; he wanted to retain and eat The Lucrative Cake of T20 Franchise Cricket; and he also wanted to retain and eat The Cake of Having a Little Bit of Time Off.
Sometimes a man’s desires are impractical and AB finally seems to have accepted that the world isn’t organised how he wants it to be. He’s therefore taken the decision to forego The Cake of International Cricket.
It seems odd timing with a World Cup not so far away. Maybe David Warner and Nathan Lyon broke his spirit.
AB de Villiers is very good. We’re pretty sure most of you will agree with that insightful assessment. But where do we see him at his best?
We can think of five immediately obvious environments in which AB de Villiers might be seen.
Let’s quickly run through each of these to try and work out where AB de Villiers is at his best.
Because if you want to see a thing renowned for its very-goodness, ideally you want to stand a reasonable chance of having the very qualities that define that very-goodness displayed to you, otherwise what’s the point?
AB de Villiers may well attract a certain amount of attention when he’s just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say, but we’d argue that this is merely residual attention resulting from his feats in other environments. AB de Villiers is no better at just sort of milling around in public, at an airport say, than anyone else. In fact he’s arguably worse, because he no doubt has a tendency to flee back indoors what with all the attention and whatnot.
AB de Villiers will often make slightly more runs than other people playing in the same T20 cricket match and he will generally make those runs slightly more quickly. AB de Villiers looks very good in T20 cricket.
We would argue that AB de Villiers looks slightly better in one-day cricket than he does in T20 cricket. Given more time to make runs, the difference between himself and other batsmen playing in the same match will generally become more apparent.
In Test cricket, with no real time constraints, batsmen can go about making their runs however they damn well choose. They needn’t feel rushed into playing shots they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with. They can play how they want.
Despite this, there are times when even mere survival is beyond most batsmen when AB de Villiers not only survives, but also scores runs, and not only scores runs, but does so at a rate utterly beyond most people even on a day when survival is not a seemingly unattainable goal.
We would therefore argue that ‘in Test cricket’ is the environment where AB de Villiers is at his best.
Many things happened during Australia’s first Test win over South Africa. Some of them were cricket, some of them were David Warner falling out with people. The thing that interests us the most – AB de Villiers’ second innings run-out – fell somewhere in between.
Let’s break the moment down, because it’s really quite something. We’re struggling to think of a more disrespectful dismissal.
The South Africans were near enough 200 runs behind on first innings and had then found themselves chasing 417 to win.
They quickly fell to 39-3 and so had basically lost. You wouldn’t think there was much left to get het-up about at this point, but then you’re not David Warner.
David Warner is, you suspect, the kind of man who snaps the remote in half in fury when the batteries start to get a bit low.
Nathan Lyon dobbed one down the leg-side and South Africa opener Aiden Markram nurdled the ball towards David Warner.
As Warner scuttled round to get it, AB de Villiers set off down the pitch before doing a big U-turn when he looked up and saw only Markram’s back.
Sadly for de Villiers, he’d gone sufficiently far that the run-out was never in doubt. Warner was grinning even as he threw the ball.
At the bowler’s end, Lyon enveloped the ball with his Mekon hands and duly broke the stumps.
What we didn’t mention was that AB de Villiers was on nought, having only faced one ball. Now here he was lying on his face, run-out in a match his team were about to lose.
Being run-out is always rubbish because to some extent it’s always self-inflicted. It’s worse still when you end up literally lying on your face in the dirt at the moment it happens.
Here’s AB de Villiers literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose.
What happened next was that Nathan Lyon saw AB de Villiers literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose and thought to himself: “This isn’t quite humiliating enough. I think I need to ramp this up a bit. I need to really emphasise the fact that AB de Villiers is literally lying on his face in the dirt having been run out for a duck in a match his team is about to lose.”
So Lyon ran past, looking down at him, and to emphasise that de Villiers was both literally and metaphorically fallen, he dropped the ball near him.
You’ll note that we italicised ‘nearly’ in that last sentence. As you can see, Lyon is looking directly at de Villiers even having passed him and is dropping/flinging the ball as he does so. You could maybe, if you so chose, argue that he dropped the ball at de Villiers.
Lyon could not have executed his run-out and ball-drop without the assistance of David Warner. Warner too was hugely keen to emphasise the fact that his team was winning the Test match.
Presumably feeling that the surviving batsman had escaped lightly, he chose to convey his team’s supremacy to Aiden Markram.
Australia wicketkeeper Tim Paine said at stumps that there “wasn’t too much aggression” during Warner’s send-off (which technically wasn’t actually a send-off because Markram wasn’t going anywhere).
Here is Warner’s Hatred Face midway through said send-off. We’re pretty sure we have never been this angry with anyone about anything in our entire life.
Now we want you to understand something at this point because it doesn’t really come across in stills. Warner is aiming this face AT Aiden Markram. Aiden Markram is the subject of the hatred.
All of Warner’s team-mates came and mobbed him for doing the run-out throw and yet he physically struggled with them to ensure he retained a direct line of sight to Markram.
A direct line of sight to Markram was important to Warner because he didn’t want there to be any miscommunciation about just how much he hated him
It doesn’t really need stating explicitly, but obviously as well as making the face, Warner was saying things at Markram.
And yes, ‘at’ is the right word here. David Warner was most definitely not saying things to Aiden Markram; he was saying them at him.
A real man of the match performance from AB de Villiers won England the first T20 international against South Africa. The greatest sportsman who ever lived ate up 58 balls in making an unbeaten 65.
If the innings hinted at a two-paced pitch, England’s batsmen only noticed one of them and weren’t unduly troubled by the other.
For all the adulation, it’s worth remembering that de Villiers isn’t actually all that good at T20, one of the two formats he still deigns to play. Nor has he done a right lot else in recent times.
De Villiers’ last Test hundred (do we mean ‘most recent’ or ‘final’) came in January 2015. His most recent one-day international hundred came in January 2016.
This isn’t to talk him down. He’s been an extraordinary batsman, but we’re starting to wonder whether he ever will be again. He’s supposedly fully focused on the 2019 World Cup, but in the Champions Trophy he looked like a man short of cricket. You wonder whether he might want to broaden out his tunnel vision a tad.
In this match he looked like a man playing with a hollow bat.
Jason Roy isn’t in great form either. His body is – as one stout over of straight-batted thonking proved – but his brain is not.
Refusing to stick to the methodology that had started to reap rich dividends, Roy for some reason backed himself to play someone else’s natural game and unfurled a suicidal reverse sweep.
Clearly Roy feels he has something to prove. That proof will probably only come once he feels differently.
Very slowly. He’s not yet at a point where he’ll accept that his final Test was in January last year.
Earlier this week, de Villiers made himself unavailable for selection for the upcoming Test series in New Zealand in March. Today he ruled himself out of the Test series against England in July-August.
Future withdrawals and unavailability for five-day cricket will be announced as and when series are scheduled.
AB de Villiers has stood down as South Africa Test captain. Faf du Plessis has filled the void, much as he has been doing for quite a while now.
This decision makes sense to us for two reasons. Firstly, de Villiers hardly ever plays cricket for South Africa at the minute, while du Plessis does. Secondly, de Villiers is a bad captain, whereas du Plessis seems quite a good one.
They’ve emphasised the first reason in the announcement.
De Villiers always seemed to look upon captaincy much as a schoolboy does, for some reason equating hand-eye co-ordination with aptitude for strategic thinking and man management.
Whether he has actually been disabused of the notion that he should captain his country because he is the best batsman is unclear. Like many skilful cricketers, we suspect he’ll always believe that his physical ability will directly translate into more cerebral activities connected with the sport. A career as a commentator surely awaits.