AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.

The only cricket pitch we will be able to see the great South African batsman from now on will be ones hosting Twenty20 clashes.
Updated 25 May 2018
0

AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.

  • Brilliant batsman's retirement from international cricket leaves the game all the poorer without one of its true stars.
  • Treadmill of international games leaves players with little room to breathe.

If the disbelief on South African faces after their tied World Cup semifinal against Australia in 1999 was one of the emblematic cricket images from the latter part of the 20th century, then the picture of an inconsolable AB de Villiers walking off Eden Park after losing another last-four clash will forever stick in the minds of the present generation.
No one grudged a magnificent New Zealand side their victory, especially not in front of a raucous home crowd, but the thought persisted that the loss marked the end of the World Cup road for some of South Africa’s greatest cricketers.
Graeme Smith had already quit at the age of 33, worn down by presiding over World Cup debacles in 2007 and ‘11 and the slog to the top of the Test rankings. De Villiers was only 30 at the time, but that night in Auckland he looked older and wearier. It is only now that he has called time on his international career, a year before the start of another World Cup, that we can begin to fathom just what was lost at Eden Park.
Unlike Smith, whose powers as a batsman were in decline after a succession of injuries, de Villiers exits the big stage while still the cock of the walk. Before the start of South Africa’s punishing home season, so much of the talk was about the great batsmen who would be visiting their shores — Virat Kohli and Steven Smith. De Villiers, who had spent time away from the Test side the previous season, was not quite an afterthought, but he certainly did not dominate parlour discussions.
In the very first Test, one dominated by the bowlers at Newlands, he showed us just how wrong we were to look to others. His masterful batsmanship in both innings, in conditions where most other batsmen were shipwrecked sailors, was as integral to South Africa’s victory as Vernon Philander’s riddle-me-this seam bowling. 
He did it again at Centurion to all but seal the series against India for South Africa. Over the course of the three Tests, Kohli almost matched him, but in a series that South Africa won 2-1, it was de Villiers that landed the decisive blows. A month later, Smith arrived in the southern cape, feted, with justification, as the best Test bat in the world. Again, in a series that unraveled rapidly for the visitors, he was no match for Mr. 360, who left his inimitable signature on yet another marquee series.
The greatest thing about de Villiers the batsman is the complete absence of ego. He could smoke the 31-ball centuries and play strokes others would not even have dreamt of. At the same time, he could stonewall all day in the Adelaide heat, or block 297 balls on his way to 43 in New Delhi. Whatever he felt was the best option for the team, he would choose that. With him, it was never my way or the highway. He never hid behind those this-is-how-I-play excuses.
For the international game, the loss of a star batsman who still has so much to offer is a grievous blow. It once again shines the light on the ramshackle scheduling and the skewed payment structures that have cast cricket adrift on uncertain seas. Jonathan Trott, a contemporary who went to England to try his luck there, made more from playing international cricket for half a decade than de Villiers did from 14 years with the Proteas. Administrators keep harping on about the primacy of Test cricket, but England, Australia and India apart, no one can afford to play the players what they are worth.
For de Villiers, it was never about the money. For nearly a decade now, he has been handsomely rewarded for being one of the talismans of the Indian Premier League (IPL). But when he talks of feeling tired, we would do well to listen. Just look at the itinerary that he and Kohli, who play all the formats, have been subjected to in recent times. What is surprising is that they have picked and chosen so little, putting their bodies on the line month on month, year on year.
Unlike football, with its clearly defined off-seasons — though greed is eating into that with tours of the Far East and the United States organized every summer — cricket offers no pause. It affects the players, who are getting off the international treadmill earlier and earlier. It affects fans too, because it has taken away the sense of anticipation that is such a huge part of the spectator experience.
And right now, it has also taken away the game’s most captivating batsman.


Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 22 March 2019
0

Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”