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AB de Villiers is not above the game of cricket

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AB_de_Villiers_South_Africa_World_Cup_IPL_CricketWhen Abraham Benjamin de Villiers walked out of the South African national team leaving them in the lurch 13 months ago, the player - capable of sending any delivery by any bowler out of the park at will - was bowing out of the World Cup as he had “run out of gas.”

The star refused to play for his country despite repeated pleadings from Cricket South Africa’s selection panel convener Linda Zondi. He was not keen to play the home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan earlier this year, and instead was eyeing the Bangladesh Premier league and the Pakistan Super League that would have clashed with the two international series. The panel had already made it clear that if a player wished to be eligible for selection to the World Cup, his participation in the home tours would be crucial. Not keen to play all the international games, de Villiers announced his retirement.

De Villiers had already started picking and choosing his tournaments for South Africa from 2017, when he ruled himself out of the tour to England, and received criticism for the same as well.

He had returned to Test cricket with aplomb in the series against India early last year, scoring 65, 35, 20, 80, 5 and 6 in three games. He struck four fifties and one unbeaten hundred in the series against Australia following that, which gave indications of his form and his skills. Yet, just a year before the grandest extravaganza - the World Cup - a year when teams start deciding their players, de Villiers dropped a bomb when he revealed his retirement. “I have had my turn, and to be honest, I am tired”.

The main reason his retirement sent shock waves was that he was putting aside his national commitments to play in T20 leagues. He was leaving South Africa in disarray, when they would have wanted him on board for the World Cup. Surely he could run the race for a year longer.

Since the 2015 World Cup till his retirement, the Proteas cricketer was the most consistent player for his team in the middle order in ODIs after Faf du Plessis. Mr. 360 Degrees had played 40 games in this period and scored 1,606 runs - almost double the number of runs scored by any other batsman in the middle order for South Africa.

With five centuries - only two players other than him had scored a hundred in the middle order for South Africa - at an average of 53.53, de Villiers was not just another crucial player. He was almost a necessity.

Until he dropped the bomb, leaving his cricket team with an impossible void to fill. Rubbishing rumours of a comeback, the South Africans slowly but surely found a way to deal with his absence. Du Plessis started batting at number 4 to provide more solidity. Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks, Wiaan Mulder, Christiaan Jonker, Hendrich Klaasen and Rassie van der Dussen were all called up and tried out at various spots. Seven players made their debut in the last year. Various combinations were tried, many failed to click. Hashim Amla lost form. But de Villiers refused to budge.

"There is no comeback. I’m very happy with where I’m at in my life. I don’t want to confuse anybody, especially not the team. It will be very selfish and arrogant of me to throw statements around that I’m keen to play a World Cup.” AB said this back on November 13, 2018.

Meanwhile, the right-hander was in blazing form in various T20 leagues across the world. He smashed a hundred in the BPL. He was in magnificent form in the PSL. He scored 442 runs in the IPL at an average of 44.20 this year at a strike rate of over 154. All this while, cricketers in South Africa were gritting it out together - for the team, and for the ultimate glory. In his absence, a tough set of players emerged who pitched in with consistent efforts in a bid to play for the team in England.

A bold step taken by CSA

As reports emerged, after South Africa’s third loss in the World Cup, that de Villiers had volunteered to play the World Cup a day before the selection of the squad, his arrogance and his complacency came out in the open. The very same player who had been too exhausted to play for his country while traveling all over India for IPL games had forgotten that he was not above the game.

Or did he think that the selection panel would be eager to welcome him back with open arms even as he made a mockery of their process, the system and the hard work of the players who had broken their backs in the last year to emerge as contenders for the flight to England? Did he think that they would go over to van der Dussen, who sealed his spot with four fifties in nine innings, and say, “Sorry mate, you have earned your place, but de Villiers has had a change of heart and he is going to be picked over you.”?

ABD, the team is not above you. The decision of the coach Ottis Gibson and du Plessis to not welcome you back might be a bad one in retrospect, given that the side is tottering after three straight defeats. Yes. You could have made a difference. But to announce the desire to play in the World Cup a day before the selection is unfair and it would have impacted the team spirit going forward.

Given the turmoil South African cricket finds itself in, with players leaving the country to sign Kolpak deals due to payment issues, the Board could not afford yet another controversy.



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