A.B. de Villiers speaks to Lounge about the IPL, the World Cup, and his decision to step away from international cricket
The 35-year-old South African retired from international cricket last year
As an eight-year-old, A.B. de Villiers’ fondest World Cup moment was an act of breathtaking athleticism from one Jonty Rhodes in the 1992 tournament in Australia: the famous “Superman" run-out that dismissed Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Rhodes’ incredible sprint from backward point, his leap to reach the wickets and the demolition of the stumps has gone down as an iconic moment in World Cup history. “I literally can almost smell the atmosphere of the living room that I watched it in that morning. It was early in the morning and my parents woke me up to watch the game live with them. I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s my first World Cup memory," says the 35-year-old South African, who retired from international cricket last year.
That, however, hasn’t stopped him from putting in incredible performances for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL).
De Villiers, who was in Delhi recently as the brand ambassador of luxury goods company Montblanc, says that though they didn’t win the World Cup (he represented South Africa in the 2007, 2011 and 2015 editions), he still has great memories of his time with the national team.
De Villiers spoke to Lounge about his collaboration with Montblanc, life after retirement, the quality of Twenty20 (T20) cricket around the world, and why there are no clear favourites for the forthcoming World Cup in England and Wales (30 May-14 July). Edited excerpts:
India face South Africa in their opening World Cup match. How do you see that turning out?
It’s going to be a huge occasion. Two massive teams playing against each other, both have great players and a lot of match-winners. I don’t know what’s going to happen, to be honest. I don’t know who the favourites are for the tournament as well. I do believe South Africa’s got a great bowling attack and we are probably going to take 10 wickets most of the games in the tournament with that bowling attack...
How would you rate the chances of England, India, New Zealand and South Africa, the top 4 in the International Cricket Council One Day International team rankings heading into the World Cup?
India won the Champions Trophy there not long ago (in 2013). Pakistan won it the last time around. England are the home team and Australia have won a lot of World Cups. There are four favourites already. So it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen. It’s an open tournament. The West Indies have a fantastic team. Sri Lanka also play well, though they haven’t got the best team now, but they always do well in World Cups. New Zealand are similar—too many teams to mention.
RCB have not had the best of starts in this IPL, but you have picked up some wins on the trot now. What’s the game plan going forward? (RCB has not made it to the play-off stage)
It hasn’t been our greatest season but the nature of T20 cricket is unpredictable at times. Look at a team like Kolkata Knight Riders, who have the player of the tournament at the moment in their team— they have lost six in a row. It’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen but we are on a roll, and, normally, momentum plays a huge part for the teams that end up winning the IPL. Hopefully, we can keep that going for the next few games.
There have been a bunch of umpiring errors in this edition of the IPL. What do you feel needs to change?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think the game is supposed to be perfect. There are errors in the game—when it comes to the players and the umpires.... I like the human side of it, where people make mistakes. We drop catches, bowl no-balls, we get out, umpires make mistakes. You can try and manage it as much as you can but I don’t think it should go overboard. It’s really difficult. Yes, there’s room, I think, for improvement. They can use technology a bit more maybe but we always have got to try and keep that human element of the umpire that makes the decision and the player that has made the mistake. That’s all part of human nature.
It is almost a year since you retired. How does it feel?
It feels so good. I am really relieved and so happy—spending more time with my family. I am playing half the cricket I used to. I am feeling more refreshed and enjoying my cricket more than ever. I think the decision (to retire) was absolutely spot on. I do miss some things about playing international cricket. It’s the ultimate stage for performing for your country—the camaraderie, the friends that I have made.
You will not be on the field this World Cup. How does that feel?
It would have been nice to be on the field. It was just too far. It was about 14 months to go when I wanted to step away from the World Cup. I thought 14 months of international cricket—there’s no way I could do it. I would have loved to play at the World Cup but it wouldn’t have been fair to the other teammates, to the followers in SA, to come and go, be in and out of the team...so I decided to step away. It would have been nice to play though, and I feel I am in good form. But it’s too late now. There are no regrets whatsoever.
You have played in T20 tournaments in different countries. How would you rate the quality of the cricket in the different countries?
Nothing comes close to the IPL, to be honest. I know I am sitting in India and busy playing in the IPL, so it’s easy to say. But I have played in quite a few (tournaments) now across the world. I think it’s better than the World Cup. It’s the most incredible tournament to be part of. It wasn’t always the case. The first five years were nowhere close to where we are now. It’s so intense, so fast, and the following is just incredible.
What is the one thing you miss the most about international cricket?
Don't get me wrong, I don't miss it. There are things that I will always have fond memories of -- that's a better way of putting it. I don't miss it (international cricket). I am very happy with where I am at right now. There were things that were so enjoyable. You represent your country -- that's the biggest honour ever. I had the privilege of doing that for more than 14 years. But I am very happy with where I am at the moment.
You participated in multiple sporting disciplines before cricket happened to you. What are the most important things needed to be a good athlete?
You’ve got to be able to work hard. There must be inner drive that you want to be the best in the world at what you do. If you don't want to be that, then you are doing the wrong thing. When the drive and hunger are there, the rest just happens automatically. Obviously, there are lot of people who guide you and help you in a way but when it comes to hard work, you just go ahead and do it.
It's tricky. But it's similar to everywhere in the world. Every wicket you play on is different. Same is in India. You go up north to Mohali or Dharamshala, you get a little bit more movement. The seamers are more in play. Other places, there is more turn. Every wicket is different; same in South Africa and England. So, I think the teams must be able to adapt to various conditions and situations.
‘I’ve been very picky’
Your association with Montblanc for India and South Africa started in 2017. How did you go about picking the brand?
The brand is just incredible, it is one of those brands I have always looked up to growing up. I think there are a lot of similarities in the way we go about our business. They are very creative and professional in the way they think and a lot of hours go behind closed doors, and I have related to that kind of thing.
As a sportsperson, how do you decide which brand to endorse?
I think if you look at my career over the last 15 years that I have played international cricket, I haven’t associated myself with a lot of brands. I have been very picky and very loyal to those I have decided to go with.
This brand (Montblanc) has a very special bond with me. I grew up following this brand and I never thought in my wildest dreams I would wear one of their watches or their products. It has always been this classy brand that has been too good to be true and now I am getting this opportunity to be associated with them. It is a larger-than-life kind of feeling.
What is your personal style off the field?
It is difficult to say. It has changed over the years, I have gotten a bit more sophisticated over the years as I have gotten older, now I am a father of two kids and husband to a beautiful wife. And being associated with this brand couldn’t have come at a better time—just when I got a little more sophisticated!