Cape Town – The increasingly conflicting environment of Twenty20 cricket is unlikely to be too severely shaken. If at all … it may become an increasing beneficiary.
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No, the anguish is far likelier to be prevalent among the stubborn, but also gradually marginalised “traditional” lobby in the game.
AB de Villiers was among Test and one-day international cricket’s brightest candles during increasingly challenging, indecently congested multi-format times.
Now he’s just another globetrotting player to have abandoned those landscapes, potentially with two or three productive years left, when they can so ill afford it happening.
Was Wednesday’s retirement – as has become his modern habit, he didn’t do it by calling a press conference, preferring a personal social media platform for the “break” – a surprise?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, because only a few months ago he proclaimed that his appetite for Proteas activity had been rekindled after his fairly lengthy, already much-debated hiatus from the national team.
(It was a wonderful second honeymoon, of course, De Villiers’s juggernaut batting exploits going a long way to powering the Proteas’ first post-isolation home Test series triumph over arch-enemies Australia.)
But also “no” – certainly my own slightly dominant, immediate reaction on the matter – because I always sensed a certain volatility and fluidity, if you like, to his return.
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That was even after, in mid-March, CSA confirmed to me that his supposedly extended national contract to the end of the 2019 World Cup (in England and Wales) would include Test activity … with the proviso that his “workload will be managed”.
I have raised a few times my strong suspicion that a little bit died in De Villiers, in terms of enthusiasm and motivation for the national cause, after the uniquely South African distractions that we later learned permeated the camp on the eve of their critical, ill-fated CWC 2015 semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland.
He was captain then, and jinxed South Africa came as close as they ever have in the tournament to winning that elusive trophy.
De Villiers looked as ashen, as broken, in body language as several team-mates after that cliff-hanging semi, when they had looked so promisingly placed at times to reach a maiden final in the competition.
The player has kept a reasonably careful diplomacy over the events at Auckland – his book revelations were also barely above mundane – but I believe we have often seen a distracted, slightly peeved soul subsequently in national colours.
It is in the period since CWC 2015, and again this is a subjective view, that De Villiers has increasingly come across as a cricketing “free agent”, in many senses, especially given the understandable clamour for him to be involved to the maximum in the glitzy, gaudy and cash-flush world of bigger T20 franchise jamborees.
That’s not meant as a negative observation: the modern cricketing bandwagon travels at an unrelentingly brutal pace, and after a broad international career that began in December 2004, the stats say so much about what he has given to the country.
Pleasingly, he hiked his Test batting average safely back above the half-century mark (to 50.66) during the course of last summer, which included those back-to-back series successes against co-heavyweights India and Australia.
Some cricketers, it is true, insist they don’t pay much heed to figures – yeah, yeah – but De Villiers massively warrants that number resting at such special heights, considering how much of his 114-Test career (66 matches) was played on tough SA surfaces.
He also ends his 228-strong ODI career – only five South Africans have played more fixtures – with an average of 53.50, higher than any significant batting compatriot in history.
On the basis of that SA track record alone, the pin-up figure entirely deserves to have dictated his own terms in quitting -- even as it is all so unpleasant, and slightly juddering, to digest.
By leaving when he does, De Villiers denies himself a final stab at that infernal World Cup, which had seemed such a logical and appropriate end goal for him.
By sacrificing also what lies in between, though, he somehow highlights one of the problems of modern international cricket (certainly in Tests): occasional spells or seasons where rosters take on a dangerously unappealing look.
After the champagne, strength-versus-strength rosters of the 2017/18 season in South Africa, the Proteas will soon embark on a year’s period or more where they play slightly more “second tier” foes, at least these days, like Sri Lanka (in their case both away and home) a bit too much of the time.
De Villiers wouldn’t feel he had too much left to prove against such nations, especially with the ‘Lankans desperately short of the major names they once possessed.
As he has pointedly said, too, he doesn’t wish to cultivate a reputation as a series “picker and chooser”.
De Villiers talks of wishing to still play for the Titans, his one and only South African provincial/franchise home.
I know I won’t be alone in yearning to catch every morsel of his (especially when televised) ongoing exploits for them, despite the tragically lower, often so much less atmospheric level of competition.
He is up there with the best, most deliciously innovative craftsmen and thrill machines at the crease of all time.
And I defiantly don’t feel ready or willing to pen a more substantial tribute yet.
He’s one of those players for whom you wish the end, career-wise, would never come …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing