Book: AB – The Autobiography; Author: A.B. de Villiers; Publisher: Pan Macmillan India; Pages: 328; Price: Rs 599
He is at the prime of his career, has scored over 14,000 runs in in 98 tests for South Africa, more than 8,000 runs in 190 One-day Internationals and more than 40,000 runs overall. He’s been termed the “finest batsman of his generation” by Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli — and yet the explosive A.B. de Villiers says the roar at the stadia during the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches makes him feel humble and privileged.
“Above all, the chanting makes me feel humble and privileged and, of course, obliged to score some runs,” AB, 32, writes in his autobiography, which was released here on Thursday.
“It is difficult for me to understand how someone from a relatively small town in rural South Africa can be so fortunate and so favoured that when he walks out to bat, or simply takes guard, in almost any cricket ground in India, he can be greeted by tens of thousands of happy people chanting his initials.
“A-B-D! A-B-D! A-B-D!
“I am not arrogant, big-headed or self-important. I am simply grateful to God for giving me the talent to entertain people, for giving me the skill to hit a cricket ball in a way that excites people. I have wondered about these events and arrived at the conclusion that it remains His talent and His skill effectively being manifested through me. I genuinely feel so blessed to be following the path He has chosen for me,” writes AB, South Africa’s Test and ODI captain who initially played for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL and now turns out for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
AB’s was a transformation that started in 2007 — three years after his Test debut at age 20, two years after his ODI debut and a year after his T20I debut — when he realised that it wasn’t going to be enough for him to be just another run-of-the-mill international batsman with an average in the mid-30s.
“I wanted to be much better than that. I didn’t say anything to anyone — there was no point boasting or bragging. But quietly and privately, I promised myself I would become the best batsman in the world. That was my goal. Nothing less would suffice. I believed I had the potential and I wanted to be No.1,” AB writes.
And how did it all come about?
“First, I needed to improve my batting technique, specifically to develop a correct and solid defence. Just playing strokes and attacking almost every delivery was not going to be enough.
“Second, I needed to become more disciplined, more organised and more professional, on and off the field; I needed to create a trusted support system that would enable me to focus exclusively on the cricket. Living from match to match, from deal to deal, from party to party was not going to be enough,” AB writes.
The upshot? At a private party during the fifth edition of the IPL in 2012, former West Indian great Vivian Richards took him aside and told him: “I’m serious, you’re changing the way this game is played. People used to say the same about me many years ago, but I am saying it to you now. You are taking cricket to a new level. Keep going.”
“Feeling overwhelmed, I thanked him and tried to change the subject,” AB writes.
Such is the modesty of the man, the youngest of three talented, sports-mad brothers, who grew up in the town of Warmbad in Transvaal province and excelled in tennis, rugby and cricket.
Little wonder that former Australian great Adam Gilchrist has termed AB as “the most valuable cricketer on the planet”.
Given the churning in the cricketing world due to the increasing popularity of the two shorter formats and the proliferation of T20 Leagues, does he think Tests are in danger of dying out?
Certainly not. “There are plenty of knowledgeable people in the game who seriously doubt whether Test cricket will be played a decade or so from now. It may have been an epic Test at Wanderers (in October 2011 when Australia managed 310 in their second inning, a feat that had never been achieved at the ground and which their captain Michael Clarke described as “unbelievable”, to draw the series 1-1), as they would say, but the last day was played to an almost empty stadium and, ultimately, there will be no Tests if there is no crowd.
“Personally, I am not overly concerned about the future of Test cricket. The commercial reality that ODIs and T20s draw large crowds and generate 95 per cent of the revenue is clear, but the popularity of limited-overs cricket does not mean there is no room for Tests, particularly when the entertainment remains as exceptional as it was at Wanderers (‘Four seasons of IPL cricket have not produced anything like this’, a journalist typed into his laptop), and when the longer format of the game continues to be enjoyed by a core audience.
“Many people predicted the end of roast beef when hamburgers came on the market. Those fears were misplaced because, while the mass market loves the convenience of fast food, a significant core audience still cherishes the real thing.
“In my view, Test cricket will continue to be played for many decades to come, played in daylight hours, played with a red ball and played in white clothing. It will continue because it remains the preferred format of a strong group of spectators whose numbers are not declining and whose passion is not diminishing. I count myself a member of this audience, and I will be watching Test cricket for many years after I stop playing,” AB writes.
It’s this clarity of thought that makes AB’s autobiography such a riveting read.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)