Some players rise to the top after hours of perseverance and hard work while others are cricketers with a plethora of talent and natural ability. But, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers is that computer game player that you create with all the attributes at the maximum. The South African rose to ranks only to become one of the world’s finest and most versatile batsmen across all formats. The 34-year-old batsman has the ability to take on any bowling attack with his wide variety of strokes. If his orthodoxy is compact and aesthetically pleasing, the South African avant-garde’s trailblazing innovation often rendered bowlers speechless.
His superhuman ability caught the eye of the selectors and was called up to national squad as a raw 20-year-old in 2004. He made his Test debut in 2004 in the home series against England and in just fourth innings, exhibited his class with a classy 52 and saved South Africa from a certain defeat. In the same series, the ‘Spiderman’ (as Virat Kohli calls him) registered his first Test century – a sublime 109 at Centurion. To sum up, he did not waste any time to announce himself to the world.
Playing as an opener as well as a lower-order wicketkeeper-batsman in his first Test series, he soon proved why he was the legend in the making. On his first away tour to the Caribbean Islands in 2005, he amassed 460 runs. However, a slump in form resulted him being dropped from the national side and he had to wait for the home series against West Indies in 2007-08 to get into the three figures. However, it was against India in Ahmedabad, where he broke out of his mould and spanked 217 runs only to become the first South African to his a double ton against India.
ABD continued to grow his batting and with it, in stature too. Improving his attacking skills, he developed an impenetrable defence with a karate-style back and across-movement which later modified into the check-drive to counter the moving balls on the pitch and in air.
Nevertheless, as great as things were in terms of individual performances, off-field events often seeped into his game. Following South Africa’s exit from the 2011 World Cup, de Villiers was named as the captain of their ODI and T20I team in June. Owing to the workload and pressure, he gave up the T20I captaincy in early 2013 but continued to play as South Africa’s main batsman and their first choice wicket-keeper.
Apart from classy yet strong strokeplay, ABD also showed the ability to play according to the situation as well as conditions. The first glimpse of it was seen in the Adelaide Test where South Africa struggled to play against Australia during the tour Down Under in 2012-13. ABD, however, was the man with purpose. He played a 220-ball 33 in one of the most exciting draws of all time and his partner in crime was Faf du Plessis.
In the very next Test at WACA, he brutalised Australia with a brisk 169 from 184 balls. The Proteas won the match against Australia in their own backyard. The face of innovation in modern-day cricket, AB’s achievements in the limited-overs game are more qualitative than quantitative.
Taking the time-machine to the 2015 World Cup, in a match against West Indies, ABD scored 162 off 55 balls leading his team to their second highest total (408) in world cup history at Sydney. With this, he became the record holder for fastest 50, 100and 150 in ODI history. He bagged 482 runs in the World Cup and was the third highest run-scorer of the tournament. An interesting fact here is that, although he was one of the best players in the World Cup history, ABD never could get his hand on the maiden trophy.
In 2016, he succeeded Hashim Amla as the Test captain. However, an elbow injury ruled him out for the entire season and in December 2016, he decided to quit the leadership. After recovering from the injury he made his return to the limited overs format but made himself unavailable for the Test format to lessen his workload.
ABD has also made his presence felt in the Indian Premier League. In 141 matches in 11 seasons, he has scored 3953 runs at an average of 39.53. In 2018, he was retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore. He scored 480 runs in 12 matches for RCB despite them being knocked out of the tournament.