De Villiers set to play for another three to five years

The South African batting great, who is now available for all three formats, is also hopeful of donning the whites against India next year.

AB de Villiers, the brand ambassador for MRF tyres, with K. M. Mammen, CMD, MRF Ltd., at the launch of Perfinza tyres, designed for luxury and premium range of cars, in Chennai.   -  S. R. Raghunathan

When AB de Villiers takes guard, bowlers switch on their mental protractors to gauge his mind. He has the expertise to slam a delivery well outside the leg-stump over the off-side or even sweep a speedster for a maximum. Being a repository of shots that cover 360 degrees on the 22 yards, he carved out a niche style and is a loved figure. The moment the cricket fraternity thought that the South African batting great could call time on his Test career, having been away from the longer format since January 2016 due to injury and personal reasons, he declared that he is available in all three formats; to balance the work load, he stepped down from the ODI captaincy.

For how long can de Villiers continue his blitzkrieg? “Maybe three to five years or even more,” said the 33-year-old at a glitzy function here on Tuesday, where he unveiled Perfinza, MRF’s hi-speed rated tyres for premium range of luxury passenger cars. The maverick batsman took a sabbatical from the sport, following a 2-1 series defeat, in T20s, against England in June. Earlier, the Proteas also suffered a first-round exit at the Champions Trophy under his leadership.

Sabbatical, individual call

The cricket calendar is chock-a-block with national commitment and T20 leagues around the world, which disturbed de Villiers’ work-life balance recently. But he believes it can be sorted out. “The ICC is constantly working to create the perfect balance between not playing so much and not playing too little. But being off from the game is an individual call. I am close to the administrators in Cricket South Africa and a few other people. So, when I told them I need step away for a few months to touch base with my family, they allowed. They know that I have been dedicated to my nation for 13 years. Now I feel refreshed and I am ready to go hard for a few more years,” he added.

Playing for country, top priority

Despite being a popular figure in India and the IPL, playing for South Africa remains de Villiers’ top preference. “The IPL has been an incredible blessing and I have enjoyed every second, but cricket in South Africa is my first priority. It will be the same for any South African cricketer. When you realise the corners are cut off and you can’t represent the country anymore, then there is no problem if you play in India, Australia or England. You should do what makes you happy, but at heart, the priority should be for the home country,” reasoned de Villiers, who is looking forward to the India series in January next year.

But he isn’t sure whether he will make it to the squad. “I haven’t played Tests for a while, so I have no right to just walk into the team. I will try to be in my best possible form, so that I am selected for the series. There is a lot of cricket to be played before that. India always gave us a run for money and it will be a hard-fought series. There could be a bit of turn in the Durban wicket, but, hopefully, we will be able to handle that,” he asserted.

The Kohli connection

Talking about his approach to the peculiar shots he executes on the pitch, he said, “I never changed grips. I have heard Virat Kohli talk about changing the grips when playing those shots. Many a times, I have struggled to pick bowlers, but the trick is, you need to put your chest out and show that you are picking him. Saeed Ajmal has been difficult to pick. A batsman should back his defence. You can have all the shots in your book but if the bowler gets on top, you will be dismissed unless you have a solid defence.”

Last year during IPL, Kohli declared that de Villiers was the best batsman in the world after Royal Challengers Bangalore posted 248 on board against Gujarat Lions. The duo added 229 runs for the second wicket, the highest partnership in the history of T20 cricket. While Kohli scored 109 off 55 balls, de Villiers remained unbeaten on 129 off 52 balls. “We are completely different players. He says I am the best, which I don’t believe. But he is one of the best I have seen. I feel a special connection with Virat,” he signed off.