AB de Villiers, IPL’s Mr 360, retires from all cricket

AB de Villiers’s grin spread just that bit wider.

“I think I’ve become half Indian over the years, and I’m very proud of that,” he said in a video posted by the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Half Indian. Full entertainer. Adios, ABD.

As the 37-year-old pulled the plug on all forms of cricket on Friday, it ended a relationship that transcended beyond the cricket field and connected hearts of a South African and millions of Indians.

No overseas cricket player has arguably created the kind of impact and developed the kind of bond that de Villiers did playing in the Indian Premier League for the Bangalore franchise. David Warner and Hyderabad—well, we know where that’s headed—and Kieron Pollard and Mumbai could perhaps be worthy contenders. But here was a man who redefined the boundaries of batting in T20 cricket while being the face of limitless fandom, who was RCB’s golden boy despite not winning any silverware for the franchise for 11 years, who alone transported RCB fans into the world of the improbable each time he walked to the crease even as the reality of the team’s underachievement hit them every year.

It dates back to the time de Villiers first sported the RCB jersey in April 2011 after spending three years at the Delhi Daredevils. An unbeaten 54 off 40 balls at No. 4, which included five towering sixes, got his team over the line chasing 162 against Kochi Tuskers.

And thus began the ABD-RCB era.

Over the next decade, de Villiers continued to win matches almost single-handedly or engineer hopes of a win from seemingly hopeless positions. The numbers can never completely encapsulate the genius, but they are telling anyway: 5,162 IPL runs in 184 matches—4,491 of them for Bangalore—at a strike rate of above 151 and an average of just under 40 in a fickle format where a nine-ball 20 is of great value. Except for a quiet 2017 season, not once did de Villiers’s average drop below 30 for RCB.

De Villiers stands sixth on the all-time IPL run-scorers’ list, notching up the second most number of runs for his franchise after Virat Kohli, with whom he forged an intimidating partnership on the field and a charming bromance off it that saw them exchange “love you” notes on Twitter after de Villiers’s announcement. The Proteas batter has creamed 251 sixes in the league, second only to the brute force of Chris Gayle (357), while his 40 fifties in the IPL sit alongside Rohit Sharma in the joint fourth spot.

But all these numbers pale in front of one: 360. Exploring every possible angle on a cricket field, de Villiers revolutionised the art of batting and the concept of geometry in the T20 format. Was there anything he couldn’t do standing in front of the stumps, sweating profusely under the helmet, eyes gazing the field like a hawk? Move outside the off-stump, get down on one knee and scoop the ball towards fine leg; or stay still, flip the bat around and go the other way. Push the right leg deep inside the crease and own the point region; or bring the left one out and caress the covers. Dance down the wicket to hit them straight; or sit back and sweep them hard. Slog them through the cow corner; or bring out the pull and hook. Mr 360 and his infinite possibilities of shot-making.

Year after year, the IPL stood a grand stage to the AB spectacle, and no bowler was spared the show. Not even Jasprit Bumrah when he smashed an unbeaten 135 in 2015 against Mumbai Indians in the killing afternoon Mumbai heat. Not even Dwayne Bravo as a Gujarat Lion when he went on a 129-run rampage off 52 balls sharing a double century stand with Kohli in 2016. Not even his countryman Dale Steyn when he won his team a game from 59/4 chasing Hyderabad’s 156 with a 41-ball 89 as the crowd went wild at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium seven years ago.

In an unforgivingly competitive league where even the biggest of players are shunted at the drop of a hat, de Villiers was RCB’s all-season man, and IPL’s all-encompassing star.

“Eleven years have just whizzed by,” de Villiers said in his statement.

A bit like the ball did off his bat.

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Anjali Singh

Anjali Singh Born on 15 Jun 2001 an Indian author and activist from Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh. Live in New Delhi