Abraham Benjamin de Villiers (more commonly known by his initials, AB) was born on February 17, 1984 in Pretoria, Transvaal Province, South Africa. He is the youngest of three sons born to parents Millie and Abraham Benjamin (who AB is named after) – his older siblings being Jan (9 years older) and Wessels (6 years older). His mother works in property, while his father is a doctor with a general practice. AB was raised in the small town of Warmbad, in the north of the country, where he attended primary school. It was here that AB learned to play cricket in the backyard with his brothers.
“When I was very young, I started playing cricket in the garden against my older brothers, Jan and Wessels, and Martin van Jaarsveld [who later played for the Titans and South Africa],” AB remembers. “I had to carry the water and, after a long day, they would finally give me my chance. I was a little ou and they were all in matric. They would try to intimidate me. The bat was actually too heavy for me, and I would rest it on the dustbin while they were walking back to their mark,” he says. “They battled to get me out and they would get so frustrated that they’d bowl a couple of beamers at me to see what I would do. Saturday games at our house in Bela Bela were very competitive. My brothers were merciless. They were monsters. There were always a lot of tears—usually mine,” he laughs.
“I decided when I was 10 that I was going to do something in sport one day,” he said. “I realised then that that was my way to go. My mum and dad are good at sports and I’ve got two older brothers who drilled into me how to play. I’m six years younger they made it clear that if I wanted to be involved I was going to get it, so every single game was unbelievably competitive. We’re very competitive, my mum most of all, and when we get on to a tennis court or golf course the family stops. That’s how I grew up, every single day of my life I was playing something, and from about 16 it was cricket. It’s part of the Afrikaans culture, playing it hard and doing your best. But it’s very important to stay humble, that was a very big part of my growing up, not getting big-headed.”
AB went to Afrikaans Hoër Seunsskool in Pretoria, across the road from Loftus Versfeld, where Jacques Rudolph was also a student.
AB is one of those boys who most of us knew at school and both resented and wanted to be. He plays golf off a handicap of two, not having had time to maintain his scratch rating, gave up tennis at the age of 13 when he was in the national squad and did not want to leave home to attend the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida, and had an offer to play at fly-half for the Blue Bulls (provincial rugby team). Actually, maybe he was better than the average bloke you knew at school.
If things have come easy to AB, he has inherited his culture’s work ethic. Church and sport are twin religions. “Sundays in church, and whenever I’ve got time off church, cricket and golf.”
MAKING HIS DREAMS COME TRUE
“I was eight years old when I saw Jonty’s world famous run out against Australia in the 1992 World Cup. It really made an impression on me. I remember thinking: this is a cool game! I started dreaming of following in Jonty’s footsteps,” he says. Recognising their son’s cricketing aptitude, AB’s parents decided to send their talented son to Affies. “At that stage I participated in various sports and wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on. However, when I made the South African Colt team at 16, I realised cricket was something I could pursue professionally. I started working harder. I wanted to be the best in my age group.”
While playing for the South African Schools Eleven, he was spotted by the Titans’ coach Dave Nosworthy. Dave gave him a chance to play for this team against Canada in a 2003 World Cup warm-up game. “It was the first time that I played a televised game. I was very nervous, but I thrive under pressure, especially if people are watching. Life is all about grabbing opportunities. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands,” he says.
He was a star of the South African Under-19 team in England in 2003, and then played for the Carrickfergus Cricket Club in Northern Ireland in 2004. AB says this was a big step in his life as it was the first time he lived away from home. He had to learn to become independent and self-sufficient.
Soon after, AB played for the Northern Titans before being selected to play Test cricket at the tender age of 20 years old. “I love Test cricket,” AB said. “I love the intensity and the pressure, and when I was batting at Durban I couldn’t hear the crowd. When you move from the provincial side into the national side you’ve got doubts, but if the doubts get to you you’ll struggle.”
“Making cricket my career and playing for the national squad are dreams come true. We have been in a learning phase for the past few years—and it has paid off. It’s all about consistency. In the past we may have been guilty of not playing a consistent game. But we have returned to the basics, we know and understand each other and we have worked consistently towards the same goals. We have also stuck to the same ‘brave’ brand of cricket.
“Personally, I have grown as a player in the past two years. I have found my feet on the field. Performing consistently has also been a personal highlight for me and it remains my number one goal,” says AB. However, he emphasises that his life isn’t just focused on cricket. Off the field, AB loves spending time with his family and friends. He also plays golf (off a five handicap), tennis and the guitar.
AB and a friend, Ampie du Preez released the motivational song ‘Show Them Who You Are’ at the end of last year. This song became the anthem of the Proteas’ rise to victory against Australia. By early 2010, AB and Ampie are hoping to release their first CD. “It has always been my dream to make and record music. And we’re not merely dabbling in it—we’ve decided that our CD can’t be anything but great,” says AB who also took piano lessons and sang in the school choir in primary school.
In addition, he is a partner in his brothers’ fast food businesses. They will soon start a catering business together. This move is part of his long-term after-cricket strategy. When asked in an interview with SA SportsIllustrated in mid-2009, whether he could see himself playing until he was 40, AB replied, “No. Not to 40. There is no chance. I think there is more to life than just playing cricket for 25 years. I will definitely find the right time to retire. When I start my family I am definitely going to retire. I am not going to wait till I am 40.”
AB is also passionate about his involvement in Francois Pienaar’s Make a Difference Foundation. This organization gives underprivileged children the opportunity to attend the country’s best schools, so he mentors one particular youngster at school in Johannesburg and he donates 100% of his fee for giving weekly radio interviews to M.A.D. He has even arranged to print, at his own cost, postcards with a photograph and space for him to sign, that he can carry in his cricket bag and hand out to the youngsters who stand and wait, craving his autograph. “I am a devout Christian and would like to pursue a goal in this regard one day. I’d like start an initiative through which I can touch people’s lives and make the world a better place in whatever way I can.
At this stage, it is still just a dream, but I see it as the measure of true success. I can’t just live for myself.” When talking to AB you get the feeling that it is only a matter of time before this dream also becomes a reality. Realising goals is all about self belief and hard work, he says. “Success is 99% self belief. You have to be confident in your abilities. And hard work comes naturally if you have a passion for something.”