Leading Edge: Who the hell is AB de Villiers?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT is never packed into a kit bag even though it is a vital piece of every player’s equipment. It does not feature among the myriad stats generated before, during and after every match. It is never credited with victory nor blamed for defeat. And yet it is central to all of those aspects of cricket, and many more.

Even those who appear not to have it certainly do. Perhaps plenty of it, a truth they have hid from the world and maybe themselves.

Without it no centuries would be scored, five-wicket hauls taken, stunning or stupid shots played, classic catches claimed or dollies dropped, nor matches and series won and lost.

It is ego, the stuff that makes sport go round.

AB de Villiers has it. Not in any outwardly obnoxious way, but in the way that allows him to make the outrageous look like the merely excellent.

Faf du Plessis has it, too – in the way he sucks up pressure and spits out orange juice.

And in how he breathes confidence into everyone fortunate enough to play under his captaincy.

Not difficult, is it, to stand back and admire those symptoms of the rude health that has struck South Africa’s team, especially in the aftermath of the disappointments of last season?

But what if you did not have the luxury of looking on from the distance of a seat in the stands? What if you were part of the picture? What if you and your ego were invested and entwined in what has made all that real?

What if you were De Villiers and you knew that, bugger it, Du Plessis – not you – should captain the test team?

The answer to that question will not be heard by anyone not close enough to De Villiers to hear him whisper it in confidence.

But it will be asked when the captaincy of South Africa’s test team passes from someone who is ridiculously successful as an individual but less convincing as a leader to someone who is, in his own words, “not as good as AB” but is clearly to the captaincy manner born.

So there can only be more admiration for De Villiers, who already collects compliments like the rest of us pile up supermarket receipts.

Getting out of the way of his own ego – which has been good enough to take him so far in cricket – to do the right thing by his team and his friend and resign the captaincy is the finest stroke he has yet played.

So what, you might say. All of us should have a handle of what we’re good at – and what other are better at. Why should De Villiers be different?

Except that he is, and in every way that matters on a cricket ground. And now he has found another way to shine above and beyond his peers.

Unfortunately cricket is more handily designed than other sports to allow selfishness, ego’s evil twin, to flourish in the shadows. Happily, then, De Villiers would seem to have avoided this trap on his way to sidestepping his ego.

Quitters aren’t supposed to win, just as winners aren’t supposed to quit.

And then De Villiers goes and does both. Simultaneously, nogal.

Who the hell is this man?

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