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

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.


Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

Updated 09 July 2020

Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

ROME: Preparing to complete a ninth Serie A campaign without winning the Scudetto, AC Milan decided returning to the pinnacle of football required a new approach.

Jay-Z’s entertainment agency Roc Nation is at the center of it, linking up with Milan to scour the world for sponsors and use concerts and other high-profile events to attract new fans.

And who better to ask about how to end a title drought than the team that just won their league for the first time in 30 years?

“We have been talking to Liverpool,” Milan chief revenue officer Casper Stylsvig told The Associated Press, “because they’ve been through the same path as we are going through now.”

Milan are enduring their longest Serie A drought since the 1980s. Despite beating leader Juventus on Tuesday, even the top four Champions League places are out of reach in this pandemic-delayed season. It’s been seven years since Milan last competed in Europe’s elite competition.

“We’re working very hard to get back to where we should be, and from that perspective, it does help open doors when you have won seven Champions Leagues,” Stylsvig said. 

“Playing European football is top of the agenda. It is our natural habitat and somewhere we should be.”

Only Real Madrid has lifted the European Cup more often than Milan. But that seventh title was won 13 years ago, by beating Liverpool.

Now Liverpool are the lodestar for Milan, which have fallen to 21st in the Deloitte ranking of football’s moneymakers with revenue of €206.3 million  ($234 million) in the last financial year, a third of the income at the newly crowned Premier League champions.

“Four, five years ago, no one considered Liverpool and see where they are now,” Stylsvig said. “They obviously play very attractive football. They are winning, they have a fantastic manager, a fantastic team and now they are following suit from a commercial perspective. It has taken time, but their model seems to work.”

Liverpool have been run for a decade by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. Milan have also had American ownership for three years since the takeover by the Elliott Management hedge fund.

“We are obviously a global brand,” Stylsvig said in a telephone interview. “I’ve probably been talking too much in the Italian market in the last few years and (the coronavirus) sort of pushed us to think more global again.”

The pandemic that shut down sports produced the first public manifestation of the partnership with Roc Nation when Milan staged a live virtual fundraising concert headlined by Alicia Keys.

“I do think merging sport and entertainment could be the way of engaging new fans,” Stylsvig said. “The world has changed dramatically and we need to follow suit. Roc Nation is helping us, challenging us with that, having someone on the sideline to do that.”

The biggest audiences logging in to watch “From Milan with Love” were from China and the US.

With no games being played during the three-month Serie A shutdown — and crowds still prohibited from matches — Milan have had to find new ways of connecting with its fan base and fulfilling commercial deals.

“It’s been incredibly challenging,” Stylsvig said. “You basically have to rethink the model. So one of the first things we did was focusing much more on a digital space, creating content and trying to be engaging and trying to talk to our partners.”

Further down the line is moving into a new stadium, with plans to rebuild the San Siro it shares with Inter Milan.

“That will change the club,” Stylsvig said. “The revenues are incredibly important but also for the perception of the club.”