Book review: AB de Villiers, a cricketer with values

The memoir goes beyond cricket and tells us how to play the game of life without greed or malice.

AB in his autobiography dispels with great candour and honesty the many myths that got built around him by the media once he became a great cricketer.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

De Villiers with Jonty Rhodes. A glimpse of AB's greatness can be gleaned from Jonty Rhodes' foreword.   -  PTI

I strongly believe this book is not my story. It is the story of what God has planned and realized through me.

— Abraham Benjamin de Villiers, in his autobiography

(September 2016, Macmillan Publishing Company)

Reading AB pour out his thoughts in a landmark autobiography is an ennobling experience. Avoiding flowery and complex language, which likes of him often use to impress their readers, he writes from deep down his heart with a passion and genuineness that are absent in many self-stories. A gentleman cricketer to the core with a humungous record of achievements — that is the envy of many cricketers around the world — AB has done great service towards at least partially restoring the credibility of a game that was rocked a few years ago by sordid tales of venality. AB does not directly refer to Cardinal Newman, one of the greatest minds of the 19th century, whose aphorisms are a guide to life even 200 years after he set them out. Newman famously said: “Courage does not consist in calculation, but in fighting against chances.” He further stated: “It is almost the definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” No one in the game of cricket may be ever said to have exemplified what Newman expected from those who lived alongside him.

 

AB (born in 1984) came from a middle class family that lived in Warmbaths, an hour’s drive from Pretoria, the capital. He went to the primary school there and played for the XV-member team. Later he went to the Affies (Afrikaanse Hoer Seunskool) in Pretoria where he made a mark in several sports. He played rugby, tennis, hockey and golf at Affies with reasonable measure of success. AB, however, dispels with great candour and honesty the many myths that got built around him by the media once he became a great cricketer. He never represented the country in any of these games as folklore would suggest. Although cricket was not the star attraction in the school, AB somehow came to the conclusion that it was that game which would satisfy him more than the others. It was this decision that brought him close to Du Plessis (also known as Faf) at Affies.

Coached by Dennis Lindsay, the famous South African wicketkeeper, AB and Du Plessis played together for four years with great distinction.

Later AB came under a one-to-one tutelage with Shane Gouldie of Titans that fine-tuned his prowess with his bat and behind the stumps as a ’keeper. The crucial break came when he was chosen to tour England with the Under-19 team. Two others in the team were J. P. Duminy and Du Plessis. A hundred-run partnership with Duminy in the second unofficial Test (in which Alastair Cook made his debut) and a 163 in the ODI at Arundel established AB’s credentials as a definite national talent.

A tour to India came next to prove himself. The final break was when he was chosen to play for the Proteas in December 2004 (when he was just 20) in the first Test against England at Port Elizabeth. A score of 28 in the first innings was terminated by a dubious lbw decision off Flintoff and 14 in the second may not have been great. But it certainly gave him a feel of the Test ambience which stood him in good stead. A bonus came in the second Test at Kingsmead, Durban, when he was asked to keep the wickets. Not only did he do that competently, but scored 52 (not out) in the second innings that saved the match for South Africa. The final Test in the series against England at Centurion clinched the issue for AB. A century in the second innings sealed his place in the national team. The rest is history.

An aggregate of 8074 runs in 106 Tests at an average of 50.46, (21 centuries and 278 not out against Pakistan as the highest score) is no mean achievement. A glimpse of his greatness can be gleaned from Jonty Rhodes’s Foreword. Jonty considered AB as ‘his boy’ who had “seized the torch from me and was taking it to an altogether higher and unimagined level”. Interestingly, AB, when not keeping wickets, fielded with the same zeal and skill that made Jonty the greatest fielder who ever adorned a cricket field.

AB’s association with India is known to every follower of the game. He devotes a whole chapter (‘Inspired by India’) to describe his fondness for our country. He recalls with relish his association with Royal Challengers, and considers Bengaluru as his home in India. While he is not a great votary of the limited overs format or the IPL, he does not despise them. In his view, Tests will continue to be the main form that will enchant us for a long time.

In the early portions of his story AB refers to two incidents in his life — one in 1995, on a drive back home with his parents when he was just 11, and the other in 2009, on a boat in Sydney Harbour while going on a fishing trip. On both occasions, AB felt the presence of God. Talking of the first of these bizarre experiences, he says: “I tried to make sense of everything, and decided He was telling me what sort of person He wanted me to be. He wanted me to stay humble and always to appreciate what I have.”

When I finished reading AB’s story of his life I was convinced AB had indeed lived the way the Almighty wanted him to. His is not a great autobiography that tells you how to play the game to technical perfection. But it definitely tells us how one of the great cricketers of our time achieved all that stands against his name in cricket records. However, the memoir goes beyond cricket and tells us how to play the game of life without greed or malice.

(R. K. Raghavan is a freelance writer who lives in Chennai)