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
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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.


Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

‘I’m very happy to have won my first title with Juventus,’ Cristiano Ronaldo said. (Photo/General Sports Authority)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

  • Ronaldo’s glancing header sinks AC Milan 1-0 at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Stadium

JEDDAH: A historic Wednesday evening at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium saw Italian champions Juventus beat AC Milan in the final of the 31st annual Supercoppa Italiana.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal as Juventus lifted the Supercoppa Italiana for the first time since 2015 with a 1-0 victory in front of a sold-out 61,235-capacity crowd.

As only one should expect when two of the most successful Italian clubs go head to head, a tactical and elegant, albeit very physical, display of football was at hand. 

Cheerful roars from the Jeddah crowd resonated throughout the night, in the kind of buzzing atmosphere that only a cup final brings.

Juventus, the Serie A champions, began brightly and were the first side to settle into the game, threatening with frequent sweeping moves.

Juventus and Portuguese international Joao Cancelo could have opened the scoring in the 16th minute after being played through on goal, but the defender’s zooming effort lacked the necessary precision and whisked past the far post with the Milan keeper rooted in his spot.

A maddening crescendo of noise erupted when Juventus and French international Blaise Matuidi thought he had opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after being played through by Costa before being flagged offside. 

Juventus did not have too much longer for another opportunity though, with Ronaldo’s acrobatic half volley from just outside the six-yard box bouncing and nestling agonizingly just over the bar and sparing Donnarumma’s blushes in the process.

Christiano Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last seven finals. (Reuters)

Milan, who qualified for the final as runners-up to Juventus in last season’s Coppa Italia, had struggled throughout the first half to settle into the game. They gradually grew into their own though, and nearly broke the deadlock at the stroke of halftime with a stinging drive from Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu.

After a slew of opportunities had Juventus failing to build a halftime lead, Milan nearly made them pay for their squandered chances by starting the second half like bats out of hell. 

Milan’s confident pressing start to the half was almost rewarded in the 47th minute when a Ronaldo tackle inadvertently set up Cutrone with a clear sight on goal.  The striker turned and blasted an effort that rattled off the crossbar — the closest either team had come thus far.

And just when the tide seemed to have turned for Milan in the second half, their confidence building with every minute, a perfectly floating cross from Pjanic found Ronaldo with yards of space, and he made no mistake directing a swift header into the back of the net in the 61st minute and sending Juve supporters into a frenzy.


• AS IT HAPPENED: Cristiano Ronaldo's goal gives Juventus Supercoppa Italiana victory over AC Milan in Jeddah >>

• Arab News Matchday gallery >>


Things went from bad to worse for Milan in the 73rd minute. Franck Kessie came rushing in with a recklessly timed tackle, crunching his studs into the shins of Emre Can, which resulted in him seeing a straight red and leaving Milan with 10 men and a subsequent insurmountable uphill battle.

The final whistle came soon after, and with it brought Juventus a record eighth Supercoppa. It goes without saying that there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a cup final, but this was a historic and monumental occasion for Jeddah. 

The first major European cup final match being held in Saudi Arabia is now in the books, and with it brought an added sense of passion and excitement. 

Thousands of men, women and children showed up enthusiastically, were highly supportive of both teams, and were thoroughly entertained. It was a successful and memorable night that will surely pave the way for many more.

Addressing a prematch press conference on Tuesday night, Juventus Captain Giorgio Chiellini had defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.

“We (footballers) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.”

Juventus had been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they had lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European Cup finals. 

Chiellini, however, firmly believed that his team would change the trend and the team did make their captain proud. 

Juventus now holds the outright record of most Italian Super Cups with eight titles. (Arab News photo by Ali Khamg)