I pride myself on being an exceptional follower of the game. I have observed many a player and team over the years and whenever I tend to stick out my neck and tender a prediction on either a player’s long term performance and ability, or a team in general, I am seldom let down by my instincts.
In any international cricket side you tend to have players that will inevitably have their names penciled into the squad regardless of their most recent performances. That usually happens because of a mixture of sentiment, talent, past performances and most importantly, their track record (or stats). Players that come to mind straight away are Kevin Pietersen, McGrath, Warne, Ponting, Tendulkar, Kallis, Smith, etc. They all basically pick or picked themselves. Another name that can easily be added to that prestigious list is that of AB De Villiers.
Not only is AB De Villiers a player that quickly carved himself a reputation of a batsman that hits a ball really hard and have the ability to score at unprecedented scoring rates while exhibiting a certain flair that should be more at home in a French rugby jersey, but as of late he proved himself to be an extremely effective and reliable middle order batsman in the test squad.
It has been said that age breeds patience, and even though AB is only 24 years of age, his maturity has shone in the recent series against India and England and he has undoubtedly placed himself firmly in contention for both the one-day and test squads for some time to come.
It is with great pleasure that I bring you a one-on-one interview with probably one of the most level headed and down-to-earth cricketers you are ever likely to meet. I caught up with him between games at the Kimberley airport waiting to fly to Johannesburg for the game against Bangladesh on Wednesday. It would have been understandable if he asked of me to call back later to conclude the interview, but such is the nature of the man that even while he carried bags to their plane he was still in deep conversation with me…up to the point where he needed to “kill” the phone!
Q: We all know that AB De Villiers is one very talented cricketer and that he also excelled in other sports. At what point as a young sportsman did you make the conscious decision to become a professional cricket player?
A: As you know I have been quite good at tennis, cricket and golf at a young age. I only really excelled at rugby later on in high school. My first realization that cricket would probably be the sport for me to focus on was when I reaped results from it at the age of 16. I was included in the SA Colts side back then and at the age of 17 and 18 I was included in the SA U/19 squad.
Q: Can you remember what you were doing when you got your call up to the national side?
A: (Laughter) Yes! I was at my ex-girlfriend’s house having dinner when I got the call. I was so excited that I immediately called my parents and understandably they were also over the moon about the news. I could not sleep that night and it was only the following day that the magnitude of what have happened sunk in. I immediately went down to the nets for a practice as I was now in the SA National side for the first test against England at PE and I wanted to do all I could to be as prepared as possible.
Q: What has been your favorite test innings in your career thus far?
A: There are two. And it would be unfair to label the one more important than the other. The double hundred against India in the sub continent was very special as it helped us to win the 2nd test and take an unassailable lead in the three test series. The second favorite test innings being very special as well…the match winning 174 at Headingly against England to win the series. I will never forget those two!
Q: Being a player myself I can probably highlight my five favorite run scoring shots of all time. I would just like to know if you can remember one and if you can remember the details of it?
A: Aaaah! Yes! You clearly remember the 438 series, right? Now in the game at Kingsmead Brett Lee was steaming in and averaging 150km/h. He bowled one wide outside off and I freed my arms and carved one out of the screws over point for six. The very next ball he decided to come in a bit straighter and I picked him up over square leg for another one. Back to back sixes against that pace and against Lee was priceless!
Q: Without giving too much away from the rituals and dynamics inside a change room before and during an international match, can you maybe give a few examples of some quirks in the make-up of some of your national teammates?
A: (chuckle) Not many people know this, but that calm look you see on television is not fake! Jacques Kallis really is calmness personified. He is almost asleep in the change rooms before his innings. He always remains so relaxed, regardless of the match situation. You do get the odd guy in the side that can barely sit still and would spent a lot of times mucking around with a bat and a ball before they go out to bat, but not Jacques. Someone like Gibbs and (even more so) McKenzie are very superstitious, but that you guys know already.
Q: In season, and taking into consideration the current series of matches being played, what does a typical day in AB De Villiers’ life look like?
A: In season there is not much time off, but every day does look different. But as a rule there would be cricket training in the mornings with a break in the afternoons followed by a gym session in the evenings. There after some of the guys either go out for dinner or go and watch a movie…you know, just chilling a bit. But there is a lot of hard work being put in during the day.
Q: We all know that professional cricketers have their bats custom made…mostly. Is their anything in particular you look for in a bat for yourself? Who is your current bat provider and how long do you use a bat for? I know that someone like Smith tends to use his bats for 500 runs and then replaces them…
A: I have been with Kookaburra ever since I was 16. They have been great and they have supported me well. What I look for in a bat? Well, I look for something with a nice bow, light pickup…it should not be bottom heavy…even though you need something with a heavier toe in the sub continent as balls tend to keep a little low over there, but all in all, just something with a good 7 or 8 grain and a great ping. I am not really worried about counting my runs with a bat either. If it’s damaged, I replace it.
Q: What do you make of India’s remarkable results thus far against Australia in India?
A: I think it’s really great for them. It is also great for us because we managed a good draw against them in their back yard. Australia is clearly finding it difficult to tour there, which makes sense as it is one of the most difficult tours any side will ever embark one.
Q: Do you personally believe that Australia is ripe for the virtual picking?
A: Absolutely! When we tour Australia in December we will be confident, but we would have to play great cricket and be well prepared if we are to beat them in Australia. But the time is now.
Q: I know that many people, including team mates, have been asked this question in the past, but what was your personal feelings running into Gary Kirsten in India when you last toured there?
A: You know, it would not be normal to not have mixed feelings. But he made it very easy on us. Without making it look too obvious he was always very quick to come into our dressing room for a chat and some friendly banter. He is such an amazing person as well. I worked closely with Gary before his call up to coach India and he helped me in developing my technique. One could only hope he would never use personal knowledge on players for personal gain, but even if he did, who could blame him. His job is to get India winning test matches. So if he is forced to point out different weaknesses in players to get those results no one in their right mind can blame him. I wish him all the success he can get! People will do well to remember that it is no more than a job, but a job he clearly loves.
Q: Do you have personal milestones set out for yourself? What are they?
A: To be very honest…the only milestones I have set out for myself to keep performing as best I can for as long as I can. The rest will look after itself.
Q: Being a young player of not really “large stature”, how long do you see yourself playing really competitive cricket?
A: The norm these days is to retire at 32 or 34 years of age. So in all likelihood, barring any serious injury or worse, I will probably keep going for a good 10 more years or so. God willing, of course!
Q: When was the last time you bowled in a match situation seeing as you are a very adequate wicket keeper as well?
A: (Laughter) I actually bowled in a test against Australia. Damian Martin was batting and he carted me around the park. I think that was the last time I tuned my arm over!
Q: What are your personal views on the explosion of 20/20 cricket the last four years?
A: You know…I actually like it very much. For me it’s a form of self expression as I am a natural stroke player and in 20/20 cricket you don’t have to go out to the middle with high expectations. You can go out there and enjoy yourself, and if you come off with a few good runs very quickly it’s an awesome feeling!
Q: What is AB De Villiers’ favorite “pig out” food?
A: I like anything with pasta in it! That and seafood!
Q: Are you currently driving the car you really want? If not, which is your dream automobile?
A: Absolutely! I am driving an Audi A4 sponsored by Audi. It’s a great sponsorship. I have driven the A5 before this, but the A4 is what I have been given now and it’s a fantastic car!
Q: Let’s assume AB De Villiers had a hand in selecting a one-day squad. You end up with 5 very good batsmen and four specialist bowlers. You need to fill two more spots and you have the choice of using either specialists or all rounders. Which will you choose?
A: I will definitely go with all rounders in a one-day and a 20/20 squad and with specialists in tests.
Q: Who has been your nemesis thus far on a cricket pitch in the sense of competition?
A: Shane Warne. Without a doubt. I never really played him badly, but he got me out a few times. He was a great bowler.
Q: Who would be the least likeable character you ever came up against?
A: Mmmm…tricky question to answer. I would have to say Kevin Pietersen. Even if it’s only because of the huge amounts of runs he scores and since it’s so difficult to get him out!
Q: Do you ever feel like losing your “cool” on the field of play? Have you “lost” it in the past?
A: Not really, no. You do get days when it’s extremely hot out there, especially in India, and you find yourself fielding out there for 90 odd overs. You are bound to get irritated, but no, I have not really lost my cool yet.
Q: I have heard a few chirps in my life and quite a number of them have been gems! Which of the chirps you have heard in your international career will always stand out is legendary?
A: I have never really been fortunate enough to hear some gems firsthand, just the usual ones that do their rounds on the field, the same as every other match you play. But the old one that involved Glen McGrath against a Zimbabwean batsman still stands out as a classic for me. McGrath kept on telling the batsman that he is so slow, so fat, so overweight…just never letting up on the poor guy. The guy hit back and chirped McGrath that the only reason he is so overweight is because McGrath’s missus feeds him a cookie after sex with her. We all thought it was an urban legend, but I had the opportunity to play with McGrath a few years later and he actually confirmed that the chirp really did happen.
I actually had a very nasty experience the one day in Australia. Ponting scored a century and during the lunch break I went up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and congratulated him on his ton. He looked at me, shook his head and turned away in a very dismissive way. I felt like an idiot being a very inexperienced guy in the SA line up and as I walked away Glen McGrath came jogging up from behind. He stopped me and told me that I should not worry too much about Ponting. He might be their captain and he respect him, but what he just did to me was wrong and that it’s just the way he is. He (McGrath) will be following my progress very carefully over the next few years. He is such an amazing guy. A few years on we played together in the IPL and it was such an honor to see the man conduct himself in such a professional manner even while he tried to juggle his on-field commitments with his personal problems. His wife was on her death bed and he just remained gracious. Very good guy to know!
Q: Trying to steer clear of all the clichés such as “always follow your dream and work hard”, what would be the best and possibly different advice you can give a youngster looking to make it big in cricket?
A: Raw talent and pedigree is not always enough to get you to the top. Sometimes self belief and hard work will do more for your chances of making it big than anything else. You just have to keep on believing that there is nobody better than you for the job on hand, and even when you fail you have to keep on believing that you are the best and the current setback is just temporary. Application and the right mindset can be developed, but you need to learn to roll with the punches and make every moment out there count.
Source: StatZone – November 4, 2008 / GERT JAMES