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.


A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

Updated 20 March 2019
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A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

  • Can the Whites and Green Falcons find the back of the net more often?
  • Both teams need to set the tone ahead of the important World Cup qualifiers.

LONDON: Ahead of Thursday’s friendly between the UAE and Saudi Arabia Arab News looks at the main priorities for both sides as they embark on their new eras after the Asian Cup and ahead of the all-important the World Cup qualifiers.

FIND THOSE SCORING BOOTS

For the past 18 months both sides have struggled for goals. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the UAE scored just 10 goals in the past nine matches — five of those coming against lowly Kyrgyzstan and India — and likewise the Green Falcons have also struggled to find the back of the net. Heading toward the World Cup qualifiers, now is the time to find those scoring boots.

PUT ON A SHOW

Both sides have technically gifted players, can keep the ball and at times trouble opposition defenses. But both have been too defensive, too safety-first and, at times, too dull. Football is supposed to be entertainment, and the friendlies ahead of the World Cup qualifiers might be no bad time to throw caution to the wind and see what the players can do in the final third.

SET THE TONE

As the modern cliche goes, a week is a long time in football. With all the sackings and player movements, it is not hard to see the kernel of truth in that overused saying. But, conversely, time can also move very fast in the “Beautiful Game.” It may be six months before the World Cup qualifiers begin, but it will be September before the coaches and players know it. Set the tone and tactics now and triumphs will be easier to come by then and, more importantly, further into the future.