Cricket autobiographies flit between bland and interesting. Those written by
current cricketers often err with the former, while their retired counterparts
succeed with the latter. AB de Villiers' memoirs fall satisfyingly in the
middle, offsetting the mundane with the intriguing.
Unlike, say, Alastair Cook or Stuart Broad, who released autobiographies at the
age of 24 and 26 respectively, the 32-year-old de Villiers' timing is far more
appropriate - and speaks to a willing, rather than obliged, audience.
Requiring a few 'sighter' chapters before producing a proverbial innings of
substance, De Villiers unashamedly declares his Christian faith at the fore
before providing readers with insight into a childhood spent fashioning much of
the shot selection, stroke play and cricketing relationships galvanised years
While several pages recall more than a decade of home series and tours to all
corners of the globe, and unfortunately read like an empty collection of match
reports, ample time is dedicated to De Villiers' particularly memorable
performances. January 2015's world-record destruction of the West Indies in the
second ODI at the Wanderers and April 2008 and November 2010's superb double
centuries, against India and Pakistan respectively, present the most pride. De
Villiers is quick to laugh at himself, too, after gathering four World Cup
ducks - and getting out to a delivery that bounced twice during a Test in
Well documented as a talented sportsman, De Villiers dispels rumours spread by
the otherwise reputable Sky Sports. He was not shortlisted for inclusion in the
national hockey squad, he doesn't hold any swimming or badminton records, he
was never in line for competitive football selection and did not play rugby at
South African representative level. True, he was a solid golfer and an
excellent tennis player during his formative years, but ultimately the desire
to participate in team sport saw the greens, fairways and courts take a
backseat to nets, pitches and outfields.
The genuine delight and fulfilment derived from 2008's historic Test series
wins in England, where De Villiers successfully countered being labelled a
'cheat', and Australia, where he graciously humbled the outspoken Matthew
Hayden, is palpable - and there is no shortage of sincere appreciation for
Graeme Smith, during those tours, before and beyond.
Mark Boucher, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis, too, enjoy De
Villiers' admiration, while England spinner Monty Panesar, Pakistan seamer
Mohammad Asif and Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson are rated among his
most challenging opposition. Reverence for the late Hansie Cronje and the
underrated Mickey Arthur doesn't go unnoticed, while grievances with Ashwell
Prince and Ray Jennings required greater transparency, not truncated
Kallis, De Villiers acknowledges, was a major influence in his path to becoming
the number one-ranked Test and ODI batsman - and sympathy for Boucher, who had
to retire from playing international cricket due to an eye injury, heartfelt.
De Villiers' attempt to substantiate the trio's bond, complemented by Smith and
Justin Kemp's contribution but mistakenly perceived as a negative clique, is
honourable. Preferred positions in the batting order, his occasionally
begrudging role as a wicketkeeper and a few indulgent performances with the
ball make for entertaining reading.
His opinion on match-fixing - and the controversial selection of Vernon
Philander ahead of Kyle Abbott for the 2015 World Cup semi-final against New
Zealand - also deserved elaboration. Never excusing nor justifying early exits
in major tournaments, though, he is realistic and sound in his defence against
the so-called 'chokers' tag. De Villiers, meanwhile, vehemently declares
"the Indian Premier League has gradually taken the intimidation factor out
of cricket." His admission that "the downside of losing is greater
than the need to win" is certainly enlightening, but arguably damning.
Passion, patriotism, loyalty, selfless servanthood and a constant battle against
mediocrity are widespread, but the book lacks depth a delayed release should
have allowed. However, some very relatable tales - and a willingness to give of
himself in print where he can't in person - ultimately excuse the deficit.
"Leaders eat last," De Villiers concludes - a fitting sentiment,
ethos even, for a man whose humble approach, in life and this book, belies the
trappings of veritable superstardom.
The Autobiography by AB de Villiers is published by Pan Macmillan and available from leading
retailers at an RRP of R350.