There have been faint murmurs over the years that AB de Villiers feels that he has not as much love from cricket fans in South Africa as he has in the India and particularly when playing in the Indian Premier League with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
De Villiers – the original Mr 360 Degrees – has plenty to love about Indian cricket’s hospitality. He is a crowd favourite still, as witnessed by his appearance at the crease for RCB, and his defining memory of playing in the country is an ODI in Mumbai in 2015. He walked out to bat in that deciding match at the Wankhede Stadium and received such a tumultuous reception that India captain Virat Kohli was to later comment on what was going on.
“It was probably the most humbling experience of my life walking out there in the final ODI against India at Wankhede Stadium,” de Villiers said in 2017. “I walked out there to bat and the entire crowd was cheering ‘AB! AB!’ and chanting so loud that I could not even hear myself talk. It was happening in the whole series, but then it hit me really hard that I was very far away from home and here the people were supporting me like I was their own, yet I was playing against their own.”
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It has been confirmed that de Villiers, 37, will only get that kind of response when he comes out to bat for RCB in the IPL, after Cricket South Africa’s statement on May 18 that there will be no international return for the superstar. Countless fans across the globe will be frustrated, and no doubt surprised, to hear of this decision. Fair enough. There is arguably no greater thrill in cricket than to watch de Villiers in flow even at 37, as witnessed during his 34-ball 76 for RCB in April.
But the sideshow had to come to a stop, for it has consumed too much time and made several inside the South African camp uncomfortable. If CSA had to get de Villiers back, it should have happened well before today.
Over the last three years, there have been enough comments from CSA and de Villiers to indicate that it was a case of when, not if, he would make a return. De Villiers retired from international cricket in 2018 but since then there have been several instances where his name has popped up in regards to a comeback for South Africa in T20Is. De Villiers offered to make a comeback for the 2019 50-over World Cup, but was politely denied by the CSA’s selectors and coaching staff.
Not long after Graeme Smith took over as CSA’s director of cricket, news emerged of him and head coach Mark Boucher discussing their former team-mate of a possible return for the 2020 T20 World Cup. At the time, de Villiers was not picked for South Africa’s T20 series versus Australia or the tour of India.
“I would love to … we’re all keen to make it happen,” said de Villiers then. “It’s not a guarantee, once again. I don’t want to disappoint myself or other people, so for now I’m just going to try and keep a low profile, try and play the best possible cricket that I can and then see what happens towards the end of the year.”
The T20 World Cup was postponed from last year to this October-November on account of the pandemic, and last month, during the IPL, de Villiers revealed that talks were ongoing about him returning to South Africa’s squad for the tournament.
“We are lined up to have a chat sometime during the IPL,” he said. “But yes, we’ve been talking about it already. Last year, he [Boucher] asked me if I would be interested. And I said, ‘absolutely’. And come the end of the IPL, we will have a look at where we are at with regards to my form and my fitness. Also, the situation with his team – he’s got to look at his guys who have been performing well over the last while. If there’s no space for me, so be it. If I can slot in there, it will be fantastic if all those things fall in place.”
On Tuesday, however, CSA stated in a media release that discussions with de Villiers have concluded. The decision will, of course, leave many cricket fans saddened. But it at last brings closure to a divisive topic and ends a rather unsavoury sage that has both CSA and de Villiers to blame for.
Now let’s hope that the IPL resumes in the next few months and we can get back to watching AB do AB things. Because that is a heck lot of fun, isn’t it?