‘I value my wicket more than ever’

AB de Villiers has been one of the star performers in the IPL, and is riding on a wave of success after he underwent a transformation in his batting at the start of 2008. He tells Sriram Veera about his impressive run, and what led to it.

At the start of the season you said you want to be the best player in the world.
People made a big fuss of it. What I meant was that any cricketer playing at this level should want to become No 1, otherwise he shouldn’t be playing cricket. I want to be the best. That’s why I play cricket. That’s my goal. I am mentally stronger and enjoying batting for a long period of time. I enjoy every day of cricket at the moment.

What do you mean mentally stronger? How did you get there? How exactly did you feel before?
It’s just about believing in your own ability. I spend a lot of time in the nets on preparation. I don’t pressurise myself any more. Earlier on, I used to get pressured very early. If I hadn’t scored for two overs I’d feel I had to push on and would end up playing a stupid shot. Now, I realise, there is always enough time at the end of the innings so there’s no need to give your wicket away. So I just value my wicket more than ever.

What’s your routine now? What are the things that you play in your mind before facing a ball?
I have my gameplan. I take the first 20 balls to get myself in. I think of three things – balance, watching the ball and keep pushing forward, little things like that – before every ball. I try to keep things very simple. My concentration is much better; I am just taking things ball by ball, I don’t see too far into the future. I have a simple routine and little things I didn’t even know I had have become my routine. Everything you see on TV before I face a ball has become my routine now. I make a mark after the first delivery and think of the three points. Earlier, when I was out of form, I used to think of a hundred things.

Who helped in this transformation?
Jonty Rhodes did it for me. He told me to take every ball as a separate event. I used to play lots of pre-meditated shots, I’d think ‘I need a boundary now and I will hit it there’. Because I was under pressure, I used to look for a four. Now, it doesn’t matter even if I am beaten for 20 balls – the next ball is an event. It’s the biggest learning for me so far.

You have also credited Kallis as being a lot of help. What exactly did he contribute and when?
We had an off-season camp in Ireland three years ago. We sat down for a drink and spoke about my game for three hours. Every little detail, my technique, what I think about before facing a ball, the approach to the game, the history of the game and everything. I went back thinking ‘I have learned a lot here and I have to take it forward and improve as a player’. He also taught me how to get over early nerves and stay in the moment.

Talking of your technique … While in your stance, that left foot points almost to extra cover or mid-off, a rare thing in modern cricket. How did that come about, was it a natural way from your childhood for your offdrives and swings to the leg side?
Yes, it was natural, it comes from my school days. At the point of delivery, I am dead still. All the movement that happens before the ball is due to the way I was brought up ever since I was a little boy. It’s just routine for me. I just stand there, watch the ball and play it.

And there was an incident with Ricky Ponting as well, wasn’t there? Did it motivate you in some way?
It happened when I was new to international cricket. Ponting had just hit a century and, during the break, I tapped him on the shoulder and congratulated him. He looked at me, shook his head and turned away in a dismissive way. I felt like an idiot as I walked away but then Glenn McGrath ran up to me. He told me not to worry too much; Ponting might be his captain and someone he respected but what he did to me was wrong. Look, I have no problem with Ponting. He was obviously busy and probably focussed on his game and ignored me. I don’t hold it against him. He is a brilliant player. But I developed a lot of respect for Glenn after that and I’m fortunate enough to know him now. But yes, it did motivate me. I had a hell of a lot to point to prove and the last time I went there I did decently and this time I did really well. I had a point to prove not only to Ponting but to the whole country over there.

Did any other incident motivate you in that way?
The biggest motivation comes from within, of course. But there have been a few. Like the one at Headingley; I had a little incident with a catch and later, when I walked out, the crowd booed me. I just decided I wouldn’t get out that day; I would put my body on the line but not get out. I scored 174. I wanted to prove to the crowd that I was a good man and a good player. These are things that motivate you; perhaps it should happen more!

What’s been the biggest response from the opposition during this good phase? Has the sledging decreased?
I love it when people sledge me, it motivates me, but yes, the sledging has decreased now. That’s what I do as well. When you get a youngster, you try to put pressure but when you get a good player, you realise he thrives under pressure and don’t say much to him. It’s nice when people now respect you as an opponent and realise that you do better when you are sledged.

Moving on, you have said you may not want to keep in the future…
I’ll do whatever the team wants me to. If the coach wants me to keep I will keep. Boucher has another two years to go before he retires so I have time to think about it. At the moment, I just want to be a batsman and improve my game.

Have you looked back at the transformation and surprised at how quckly it all happened?
It’s been a couple of good years for me but, hopefully, there are ten more to come. I am not going to be over the moon just because I had couple of good series. I know how this game works; it’s not always nice to you. You never know when that bad patch is around the corner. At the moment, I am just enjoying things, taking it ball by ball, day by day.

Source: CricInfo – May 8, 2009 / SRIRAM VEERA

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