AB de Villiers and a long-standing soap opera in South African cricket
Drama, excitement and controversy - name it and you will find it all in this episode of AB de Villiers’ return to the South African national team. It has been a really really long soap-opera now, running almost for two editions of Cricket World Cup, with dialogue and a place closer than ever.
"There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved in Argentine football, but I prefer to help from within and not criticize from the outside,” said Messi after he came out of retirement. Guess who echoed on the same thought and certainly is on the verge of coming back from retirement, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers. Last year just months before the World Cup, specifically in the Indian Premier League, the premier batsman kept the door open for a potential return. A potential return, which has seen turns, and plenty of them. First, it was Francois du Plessis, who had a conversation with his friend and ex team-mate that time, ABD.
As a result, a glimmer of hope sparked and that was coming in at a time when the South African World Cup squad (read tunnel) was dark and gloomy. They were not ready to take on the World, they were not even ready to catch the flight to England. Underprepared, over-reliance on few players and more importantly, lacking the knowledge and experience required in the conditions. The selectors immediately went and declared “No” on the dangling return put up by the plywood as a result of the 35-year-olds’ IPL performance.
“I retired for honest reasons and, when asked if I could be available for the World Cup, agreed to keep the door open,” expressed the veteran amidst the teary-eyed South African fans, whose hopes were crushed to minute pieces in his absence. The selectors justified their stance and things looked like it was settled until another message appeared in the conversation that was indicative of separated partners. South African management blocked ABD and put a full stop (or that is what we thought) on the potential return, end of season 1.
Season two, same premise, same characters, new twist. "When you go to the World Cup, you want your best players playing for you. If I feel he is one of your best players, why wouldn't I want to have a conversation with him?” was the first thing Mark Boucher uttered when he was given the top-job. Soon, the solo efforts from Boucher multiplied into a duo, the trio with the appointment of Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt and more importantly Graeme Smith. Boucher became the Nick Fury for the South African edition of the Avengers, assembling the best to stop them from getting destroyed. Smith, Kallis, pretty much the original members of the Avengers’ unit came to rescue, alongside the long-time missing Langeveldt. Just like in the movie, the main guy, who can turn into a beast was busy in Australia during January and India during April and May.
And, thus began the conversation, where the board unblocked ABD, opened up a conversation about a possible return and asked him to prove himself. One talked and the other followed, Faf revealed that the conversation regarding the possible return of ‘Hulk de Villiers’ was on the cards. At this point, you don’t have to be a soothsayer to predict what is going to happen in this story. Straight Outta Brisbane, the news comes in that the 35-year-old de Villiers was finally ready to make or leave his mark on the Big Bash League.
Well, he could have played the Big Bash whenever he wanted prior to this edition but did he? Maybe, we are reading too much into the line, but this is cricket, nothing happens out of the blue here. Just months before the World Cup, no experienced pro would venture out in Australia’s only premier T20 competition after nudging offers every year. All of this happened in the jam-packed month sandwiched between the old year and the new year for the Proteas. One thing was constant, drama, excitement and plenty of controversy.
While the South African side of negotiations was pretty much doing the rounds, de Villiers slowly marked his return to the Australian soil scoring a 32-ball 40 far from the hush-push of Australia’s series against India and Ben Stokes’ continued heroics against South Africa. He pushed himself to the brim of fitness, running hard in the field, laying a hand or two on the screaming delivery and plucking a few catches like apples from a tree. Well, his days away from the limelight, or you could say his day away from being the protagonist ended.
Fox Cricket put the tape and the earpiece on de Villiers and asked him about that ‘potential’ return. Just like Dave Kugen interrogated Keyser Soze, the trio of Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and Mike Hussey were getting the South African to utter the words that the Proteas want to listen, “I would love to play, that was never the problem.”
“I’ve been chatting with Mark Boucher, Smithy and some of the guys involved so hopefully it all works out. We’ve had a few good discussions about the possible way forward. I’m going to have to score some runs obviously,” he added. If he does return in the South African colours, it would be a glorious return, if he doesn’t it will just be another publicity stunt that he did in the knick of time.
Despite all of this, a glimmer of hope suddenly sprung in front of the Proteas’ fans. And, by hope, you always utter Stephen King’s famous, “Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”