Mesmerising cricketing moments linger as evergreen de Villiers walks away

AB de Villiers might have quit competitive cricket, but he will remain evergreen, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind

There is no reason why de Villiers shouldn’t be such a hit. He is personable and genuine and his image has been untouched by controversy. Photo: PTI

It’s debatable if AB de Villiers is as adored and revered in the city of his birth, Pretoria, as his adopted home, in India.

Actually, strike that. As much as the people of Pretoria might love him, the South African genius hasn’t received as much approbation and a sense of belonging as he has in Bengaluru, the city that would gladly have handed over its keys to him had such a possibility existed.

It’s one of those wonderful tales of mutual romance that elevates sport from a professional pursuit of excellence to a bond-building exercise that makes for the most unlikely of equal partners. The Garden City opened its arms in a warm embrace when de Villiers moved from Delhi Daredevils to Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2011. De Villiers has responded in kind, with understated munificence that’s been his calling card throughout his illustrious cricketing career.

One had to be present at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium to experience what de Villiers means to the people of Bengaluru. Means, not meant, because even in retirement, even after having played his last game for his franchise, he will not pass into history. By his own admission, he will remain an RCBian at heart. Truth to tell, he might have no other option.

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Friday’s announcement that he was done from all cricket sparked dismay and anguish among the millions of RCB fans who populate the earth, but especially from Bengalureans to whom de Villiers wasn’t any less than a true son of the soil. Three years after he called time on his international career, the 37-year-old chose a social media platform to walk away from the game that has made him a household name in every land where cricket is played, and particularly so in the Karnataka capital where the boy next door blended right into the cosmopolitan yet old-world milieu.

There is no reason why de Villiers shouldn’t be such a hit. He is personable and genuine, his love for the city is anything but affected, his image has been untouched by controversy and he carries values that have always been dear to Bengaluru—honesty, integrity, innate warmth. And we haven’t even come to his cricket.

South Africa recognised de Villiers’ genius for what it was. After all, it was in the cauldrons of international cricket that he first made a mark; his dalliances with franchise cricket in India and elsewhere came later. It was in country vs country battle that he made his presence felt initially and his compatriots lauded him. However, cricket in the land of the Protea bears no resemblance to cricket in India when it comes to reach, popularity, and following. Rugby and football occupy the maximum eyeballs and even though cricket’s not a distant cousin, it doesn’t excite and entice as much as in India.

The cricketing landscape here, of course, is vastly different. Indisputably the No. 1 sport in the country, cricket is marked by deification and hero-worship, but primarily of indigenous, home-grown talent. To an extent fellow RCBian Chris Gayle apart, no ‘outsider’ has caught the imagination of Indians more than de Villiers. He has referred to himself as ‘half Indian’ in his retirement statement; if anything, Indians might be disappointed that he felt the necessity to use the word ‘half.’

Also read: Kohli’s swansong as RCB captain: de Villiers pays an emotional tribute

All over India, no matter if he was taking apart their own heroes, de Villiers was greeted with uninhibited gusto. Why wouldn’t he? He symbolised the best of sport; he went out there and did his best day after day, game after game, without making it seem like he was doing anyone a favour. He played with a smile, but he also played with such grace and skill and magic and wondrous touch that he moved everyone who saw him in action.

In Bengaluru, he was more than just an extraordinary cricketer. Much like his great mate Virat Kohli, he became a movement, a revolution, the deliverer of miracles, the champion that exploded the myth surrounding impossibility. For as long as he was at the crease in the red and gold, he turned skeptics into believers. He took away the cares and worries of the world, he commanded attention with his majestic presence, he put smiles on the faces, he made cricket-watching a transcendental experience, transporting the fans to the throes of ecstasy with his unique, unmatchable style and chutzpah.

There was a reason why people in their millions were drawn to de Villiers. Unlike Gayle who brutalised the cricket ball, de Villiers coaxed and cajoled it to different parts of the ground in a way mere mortals couldn’t even dream of. He was the master of defying the conventional, even though he was steeped in orthodoxy. His ball-striking was fluid without being ferocious; where Gayle pulverised, de Villiers mesmerised, a touch of apology accompanying his summary dismissal of the cricket ball.

He left captains frustrated and flummoxed because they didn’t know what fields to set. He drove bowlers ragged because they’d feel they had sent down a perfectly good delivery, only to crane their necks and see it disappear into oblivion. De Villiers did all this and more with panache and without fanfare, as if it was all in a day’s work. Truly, it didn’t feel like work. It was a maestro putting on a virtuoso performance, night after electric night, to the beat of foot-tapping music and unmistakable electricity.

Chants of ‘Aaaaaaa beeeee deeeeee’ shattered sporadic snatches of quiet as the Chinnaswamy-faithful enjoyed his dismantling of compatriot Dale Steyn with as much delight as his assault on a Jasprit Bumrah. They savoured every one of his 4,552 RCB runs, he enjoyed stacking them up for his beloved franchise. And it was appropriate that his 100th Test appearance came at the Chinnaswamy in a perfect fusion of his actual and adopted lands.

AB de Villiers might have quit competitive cricket, but in Bengaluru, he will remain evergreen, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind. After all, they have never known him to be a quitter, have they now?

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