TELFORD VICE, Bangalore
AB de Villiers has hijacked the emotions of the millions who have hung onto the gunshot crack of his every stroke for 99 tests. True to that form, he made a little boy cry and an old man happy in Bangalore on Thursday.
Nihaar Vishnu is blessed with eyes as bright as he is slight, even for an eight-year-old. But those eyes swam with still brighter tears as he sat fretting with his frowning father deep in the shadows of the M Chinnaswamy stadium watching the SA squad train on the outfield.
Some of Nihaar’s tears dropped gently onto the prize he clutched close to his heart: a miniature bat bearing the autograph of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers himself – a swooshy, swirly facsimile of some of the shots that have quickened the pulse of boys and girls of all ages around the cricket world.
But all was not well. Some parts of the autograph had rubbed off, and Nihaar wanted it restored to pristine perfection. Desperately.
How, you could see his father thinking, could they get close enough to De Villiers for a second time that day considering the swarm of flunkies that seem to exist only to keep the fans away?
As Nihaar sat there sniffling and staring, he was asked a stupid question.
“Who’s your favourite player?”
“AB de Villiers,” he replied without having to think.
At which point his father nudged him gently with some guidance: “And Virat Kohli …”
“… and Virat Kohli,” Nihaar repeated thinly.
Both play for Royal Challengers Bangalore in a city that loves them as much as Pretoria loves De Villiers.
Later in a room at the stadium sadly not accessible to Nihaar and his father, De Villiers appeared, his brow still sweaty from the morning’s exertions.
After almost 20 minutes of journalists’ questions and answers, a halt was called. But, from the back of the room, came a hoary croak: “One more!”
It issued forth from Fakir Balaji, a grand old man of journalism who has written on everything from cricket to Bollywood to the economy; sometimes all of them together.
His “one more” question turned into the kind of three-in-one ambush Indian reporters are experts at laying. Balaji, who when asked his age replied, “60-something, one foot in the grave”, got his answers and promptly flashed the biggest gap-toothed smile this side of the Ganges.
Bless him. And bless the bloke who showed him due respect. But do not be fooled.
“I am not a nice guy on the field,” De Villiers said. “I will do whatever it takes for us to win games.
“If I have to sledge, I will get involved like that. I will try and intimidate a player if I have to.
“I will try and get Virat off his game by talking about his technique and little flaws. I don’t mind doing things like that; whatever it takes to win games.
“I have never really respected a guy that’s been a nice guy on the field. I want the opposition to be hard and to play to win.
“Off the field I try to be a good human being. I know my role in the side and that’s to win games of cricket and a lot of times I don’t have to be a nice guy to do that.”
There’s an eight-year-old in there somewhere refusing to grow to 60-something, and on Saturday he will play his 100th test.