On a pretty decent 1st day batting deck at Chinnaswamy last year, South Africa had capitulated. None had seized the opportunity, except one. AB de Villiers lived up to the cheers of the local fans. He stepped out when it was flighted, he went across when it straightened, he went back when it was short; he scored runs when no one looked like scoring.
I sat in the stands and watched him play one shot after another, each better than the last. He scurried with ease and strolled with intent. The authority he displayed, the freedom he enjoyed was all pure class. It seemed like he was determined to provide the joy of the game that everyone desired.
But two months later, the name AB de Villiers evokes a much more painful feeling than charm. Not because he scored a duck at the Wanderers; had he not scored a run for months no one would fret as much as much they do now, after he contemplated on his career. He has dug a hole in every cricket fan’s heart with what he had to say. Uncertainty erodes the heart more.
“I’ve found myself on the pitch in the past few years, every now and then, not enjoying myself as much as I should be and that raises concerns”, he said during his first press conference as South Africa’s Test captain. He went on to say, “There are big tournaments going on around the world and some of them you cannot ignore because financially they make a huge difference in our lives. International cricket is the main one you want to play and one or two things will have to change in order for that to happen.”
It isn’t a mere statement. It’s a portent which will hurt us very soon.
Too much cricket is cruel, so cruel that we might end up not savouring what AB de Villiers intended to offer us. It isn’t in doubt anymore that the sport is killing the sportsman it had brought up. As fans, what we desire day in and day out, is depriving us of what a player is able to offer us on a longer term. If we eat like gluttons today, we may have to starve tomorrow.
There is no use in masquerading. The ICC needs to look inwards and reinvent itself to evade a crisis which might soon gobble up the game (if it hasn’t already). The shorter format of the game not only provides glamour to the fans, but is also more than capable enough to look after the aging stars and feed the younger breed. It offers money to the players and time to the fans. What will the ICC do in return to keep the red ball in play? We may have to wait but hopefully not longer.
On the same day it also amazed me as to how big a gap in class he had managed to widen between him and the rest. And the rest included a certain Hashim Amla. It is grotesque to speak of Amla sans class, but on that day it seemed ABD had built a bridge so long that anyone on the other side could hardly be seen. Did de Villiers feel the same? I’m not sure.
One of the major problems that Sachin faced as a captain was that he expected everyone to be on par with him. It is also true that he couldn’t overcome that barrier; he struggled to motivate and failed to lead. After the defeat at Wanderers, I fear that might be happening to ABD as well. I would have reserved my thoughts had he not spoken at length of the difficulties he has to deal with, being a 360-day cricketer.
What then pricks my mind is why let a player of the class of ABD to grapple on the issues of leading a side when all he wants is to enjoy his game. When Amla quit there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind of who was to lead. That seamlessness is indeed a positive sign, but they don’t necessarily need to go with the obvious choice.
Faf du Plessis is currently struggling to find form after a series of failures, but with six months to go for the next test series this is the right time to ask him to lead the side. Faf is going to be the backbone of South African batting line up, though this might not be the right time to say it.
Ganguly was not a great test batsman but he was a great leader. He always had the confidence of Dravid’s shield to defend when attacked, and Sachin’s class to march when needed. Faf will have the services of Amla and de Villiers on the field and off it too. There isn’t a doubt that he is a brave soldier and he will most likely make a good leader too.
What it does is allow AB de Villiers to be AB de Villiers. In letting him be himself, South Africa isn’t going to lose much as Faf can fill his shoes as a captain if given the responsibility. When AB de Villiers, the batsman, can provide you with pretty much everything needed of him, why let him ruminate on things that aren’t going to help his batting?
The least South Africa can do is to ask him to bat, and not keep or lead. Ask him to enjoy his cricket and not worry about it.