Sleepless in Miami… and Durban

I found it enormously satisfying burning the midnight oil and watching the exploits of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers last night. He was serene, composed and dominant with a degree of surety that I had not witnessed before.

Day one of this Test was four years ago to the day that he began his international cricket odyssey, against England in Durban as a keeper batsman. From that moment I have always admired his ability and, as the years progressed, his personality. He is an extraordinary talent who thrills with his performance and off the field he is a special individual whose company I have enjoyed over the years.

With AB, what you see is what you get, that bubbly personality who struggles to stay still even when deep in conversation, and is never far away from a laugh. He is just a very likeable bloke. Now he is one who has peeled a century off Australia, everybody’s benchmark, and has contributed enormously to an historic victory.

The de Villiers on show in Perth was a far cry from the player who last confronted Australia on their previous tour of South Africa. Durban was the venue in late March 2006 for a memorable Test and, although AB doubled up with two respectable scores, my memory of him during that time is channelled towards activities off the field.

In those days he was opening the batting and arrived in Kwazulu Natal following a couple of low scores in the 1st test in Cape Town. He was edgy. He was nervous. He was hyperactive and in need of a score. All of those attributes compounded the issue and concluded in one of the more extraordinary tales of an international sportsman.

The night before he was due to bat on the 25th of March against the likes of a potent Lee and Warne, he decided some extra hours of shut eye were warranted. After a draining day in the field watching a Ponting century he retired very early to the private sanctuary of his beachfront hotel room around 8pm. Restless sleep followed as the batting demons played havoc with his mind and he exhausted himself with visions of the challenge the following day.

He eventually awoke in a startled state, riddled with apprehension about the day ahead. A quick glance at his watch escalated the anxiety. It was 10.30! He suddenly realised he was late for the start of play on day 2 and massive panic immediately set in.

He dived into the shower, hurriedly donned his team tracksuit and rushed to the breakfast room to douse the flame of hunger that was burning away at his stomach following a meal void previous evening. As he arrived his worst fears were confirmed.

The staff were clearing the service and he was too late for food. He knew he would be in Graeme Smith’s little black book forever for sleeping in during a Test match. He snatched a slice of bread from the nearest table and bolted for the elevator to scramble for a taxi to Kingsmead.

Upon arriving in the foyer in a dishevelled and horror filled state, he realised his folly. It was still dark outside! He had actually awoken after only two hours sleep and it was in fact 10.30pm, not 10.30am! His watch combined with his fretful psychological state had succeeded to lie to him.

He put on the skids and attempted to nonchalantly reverse his actions and calmly revert to the elevator. It almost worked and the story nearly remained untold. He was spotted by teammates, questioned and ridiculed momentarily. The cat was out of the bag and understandably mirth permeated over the next 24 hours.

On the 24th March 2006, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers was like a cat on a hot tin roof.

Last night on December 21st 2008 he was the Lion King.

Source: SuperSport – December 22, 2008 / MIKE HAYSMAN

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