The swift emergence of a national treasure

He wakes in another hotel room and starts to prepare for another match, eventually heading down to yet another team breakfast in yet another team room.

Sitting at the tables, drinking fruit juice and eating high-fibre breakfast bars are his teammates, fellow track-suited travellers on the endless treadmill of international cricket. He says good morning to almost everybody and almost everybody takes the trouble to say good morning back because almost everybody recognises the reality that, in terms of living on top of each other and having to get along, life within a major cricket team is matched only by life on a submarine.

Today, as on every game day, he settles into his usual place on the team bus and travels to the ground and sets to work, filling his mind with the task of getting the basics right, preparing mentally, stretching, jogging, moving through all the well-practised drills, warming up effectively.

When he fields, he actively concentrates on concentrating, encouraging teammates, clapping and chivvying, pacing in as the ball is bowled, drifting back, ensuring he is ready and poised to pounce whenever the ball is struck in his direction. Some observers rate him among the outstanding fielders in the game, but he knows all too well he is only ever a lapse of concentration from an error, and embarrassment.

When he bats, he instinctively seeks to be positive and to play his strokes but, over the past 12 months, he has learned to be patient, and not to ‘give it away’, and to keep the scoreboard moving by nurdling the ball into the leg side and scampering through for a single, or maybe even two.

Some days, when he feels in nick and the juices are flowing, he launches himself into an assault on the bowlers, slog-sweeping the ball over the ropes at midwicket or dancing down the pitch to drive a straight six into the crowd or thundering a classic drive past static fielders in the covers.

His life is demanding and often exhausting, but it is also exciting and it is, of course, all he has ever wanted to do since his childhood in Bela Bela, the town formerly known as Warmbaths. That was where he first learned to play tennis, and rugby, and golf, and emerge as a fantastically gifted natural sportsman, but now he focuses all his energies entirely on cricket and his goal of becoming recognised among the world’s top players.

Beyond the relentless hotel-training-hotel-match-hotel-flight routine, beyond the pressure of succeeding and only ever being as good as your last game, beyond being away from his family for months at a time and having little time to himself, he remains eager to give something back to the people who buy the tickets and cheer from the other side of the boundary.

He has become an ambassador for Francois Pienaar’s Make A Difference charity, which raises funds to give gifted children the best possible education, so he mentors one particular youngster at school in Johannesburg and he donates 100% of his fee for giving weekly radio interviews to MAD.

He has launched a website, incorporating not only a regularly updated blog but also behind-the-scenes videos that he shoots with his cell phone and uploads to the site himself. 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.

He recognises the exceptional opportunity he has been granted, and he accepts his responsibility to perform and conduct himself in a way that reflects credit on his country. He understands that sport at the highest level is about more than winning matches and trophies; it is about projecting a positive global image of a winning nation, which can then translate into increased trade and investment, creating real jobs and wealth.

So he plays, plays and plays, week after week, for South Africa, for the Titans, and even for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League. Such is the life and times of AB de Villiers, a cricketer fast emerging as a national treasure.

Source: One Small Voice – April 26, 2009

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