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ABCDE: AB Can Do Everything

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Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

AB de Villiers would at once know why I have begun this piece with the first four lines of Psalm 91 from the Holy Bible. Reportedly, like Sir Walter Scott is said to have remarked, AB contends that the Bible is the best book around. For a man who believes in fighting relentlessly and is proud of donning South African colours, it comes as no surprise that “Gladiator” is his favourite film – Maximus Decimus Meridius does not fail to motivate and inspire, no matter how many times you watch him on screen.

Incidentally (if not intentionally), I am penning this piece a day before AB de Villiers turns 32 – his first birthday after becoming a father (to another AB, incidentally). Quite interestingly, he was born to another AB in 1984. Abraham, we know from the Old Testament. Benjamin, Abraham’s great grandson, was the righteous thirteenth child of Jacob.

AB Can Do Everything. When you consider this acronym for a Bible-reading, God-fearing gentleman from South Africa who primarily wields the willow, but has also donned the gloves, and runs 50 metres to gobble up skiers in the outfield, while offering truly inspiring and ‘likeable’ leadership at the helm of an ethnically-diverse team of South Africans, you feel as if your own faith in your God is being intensified… or if you are an atheist, you might feel like you could believe.

 

What exactly does that ‘Everything’ mean? Well, he bats, captains, fields and keeps wickets; he has even been known to bowl, though he doesn’t showcase this talent very often. He plays Test cricket, ODIs and T20s, adapting without difficulties to all these formats. But then, do not many crickets do that? So what is special about AB? He also played hockey, football, rugby and tennis at the professional level and is an adept swimmer. You bring the sine qua non for all these diverse sports together, infuse a dose of creativity, and focus all that on cricket.

The stick-feet-eyes coordination of hockey, the footwork and sheer power of soccer, the indefatigability of swimming, the ‘do-or-die’ of rugby, the flexibility (charging in, backing up, swerving away, capitalizing on faults) of tennis; these are all skills which have held him in good stead. He is destined to pass them on to his wards later on when he eventually steps into his coaching shoes.

The ‘Most complete player of the Modern Era,’ according to the Very Very Special Laxman.

Add the friendly, charming aspect of his personality (being an Aquarian helps perhaps), and you have this truly amazing human being. His mother feels so proud of her son when she says that he has endeared himself to the locals when he comes to Bengaluru to play for RCB. I chanced upon a Youtube video in which AB sings the popular Sholay song, ‘Yeh dosti, hum nahin todenge…’ Modestly, naturally, he admits that his pronunciation may not be right, but listen to it and you know he has worked hard to sing it right.

Recall what Aakash Chopra said jokingly about him: ‘I demand a DNA test of AB de Villiers…this game is only for humans.’ Well, ‘truly amazing human being’ perhaps is how you could define an extraterrestrial, especially if you would want to add him to the family of Homo Sapiens and feel proud of the fact?

‘Is there anything he cannot do?’ This was how a friend of mine responded a video of AB I sent him. The video was from the music album Maak Jou Drome Waar (Afrikaans for ‘Make your dreams (come) true’), a joint venture between AB de Villiers and Ampie du Preez. A song dedicated to Nelson Mandela clearly shows the impact the great man had on AB when he was growing up. He was in school in Pretoria when Mandela became the President of an apartheid-free South Africa. Even as we talk about this album, sample these lines from a song – Show them who you are - sung by AB…

‘Do you feel the way I feel
Is there a fighter who can deal
With anything thrown in this direction…’

‘Show them who you are,’ does not display cockiness or arrogance of any kind. It is something which the Indian saint-philosopher Swami Vivekananda, another spiritual man, would exhort youngsters to do. That ‘anything’ could be a googly bowled by Shane Warne or a bouncer by Dale Steyn or a yorker by Malinga, literally. Metaphorically, you would have guessed easily – it refers to challenges in life.

‘You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.’
-    Psalm 91:5-7

There have been numerous occasions readers would instantly recall when AB has turned the tide single-handedly, calmly and with the utmost composure. There would be a greater percentage of readers who would remember his exploits for Royal Challengers Bangalore. ‘Explosively dependable’ in the upper middle order, his tennis skills often coming in handy with those fours and sixes – purely unconventional, from a cricketing point of view - in the Third Man-Long Leg region.

Just as words keep getting added to the Oxford English dictionary, AB has made the job of the cricket-lexicographer more exciting. ‘Changing the rules of the game,’ is what Rahul Dravid said about him. After being smashed around on several occasions by AB in the IPL, Dale Steyn – his South African teammate, had this to say, ‘There are only two games I dread – the two IPL Games I play against this Guy’. The ‘G’ is intentionally capitalized, as Steyn stressed on that last word.

‘Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him’
-    Psalm 91:14-16

For the sake of the gentleman’s game and for the sake of faith in virtuous conduct and adherence to spiritual principles in life, you sincerely would pray to God to make sure that AB carries on for another decade playing international cricket, and adds multiple feathers to his South African cap, perching himself right on top in several rankings in the three forms of the game (on date, he has notched up over 8000 runs in both Tests and ODIs, and over 4200 runs in all T20 matches…his average is over 50 in the two longer versions of the game and a healthy 30+ in T20s).

Legendary fast bowler Bob Willis wants to challenge the notion that Sir Viv Richards was the best batsman of all time, and considers AB to be a true contender for this epithet. The mantle of captaincy in the longest format has finally fallen on him, and that does not seem to be affecting his prowess with the bat one bit. God willing, that must continue…

Dr Rajgopal Nidamboor, who also writes for HoldingWilley, gave me the opportunity to write a short chapter, for his book, on Jacques Kallis – another South African who will always be admired. I was wondering, why not AB de Villiers? But de Villiers was only 28 at the time. A legend already, but a still active one.

I often joke around with a Norwegian friend of mine, who has gifted me autobiographies & biographies of sportsmen and with whom I share this love of sports in general, that I would perhaps write the biography of some eminent sportsman someday.

A long shot, one may think… but maybe AB?



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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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