Cape Town – At the ground where he must know virtually every blade of grass, AB de Villiers a little belatedly kicks off his Mzansi Super League campaign on Wednesday.
That fact alone may be enough to ensure a turnout at least bordering on healthy – something that could barely be considered a feature of the opening round of matches in the much-debated, currently money-losing Twenty20 tournament – at SuperSport Park when the Tshwane Spartans team he represents entertains the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants (17:30, live on SABC3).
The supposedly international-themed event, currently in its second edition, is already labouring in 2019 through the absence of the majority of known global drawcards in the format, and not helped by tottering South African cricket itself boasting a smaller crop of true superstars possibly than at any prior time in its post-isolation history.
That situation would be so different, of course, if the flamboyant, innovative stroke-player who is De Villiers continued to strut his stuff in the Proteas’ various-format shirts.
But the now 35-year-old hasn’t done that since his final stepdown from international activity in the March 2018, series-deciding fourth and final Test against Australia at the Wanderers, where he fittingly contributed 69 in the first innings.
Now, after a glittering Proteas career comprising 420 matches across three formats and 20,014 runs, he is simply an “enjoy him when you can” sort of figure in the more cheap-thrills-like but lucratively-paid landscape of the travelling T20 franchise circuit.
But his fan club remains an extended one … and more especially in the environs of Centurion, scene of Wednesday’s clash, where his first-class career began back in October 2003.
Then a 19-year-old, he announced himself pretty quickly by striking 58 and 61 - as an opening batsman partnering Alviro Petersen - for Northerns against Western Province in the former SuperSport Series.
You further appreciate just how long ago that was when you consider the composition of the WP attack: Charl Willoughby, Quinton Friend, Alan Dawson and others.
Apart from countless subsequent appearances for the team later renamed the Titans, De Villiers went on to play 14 Tests, 20 ODIs and five T20 internationals specifically at his long-time home ground.
His frequent globetrotting seemingly having ended his domestic loyalties to the franchise as well, the blazing right-hander didn’t get the chance to wow Kingsmead at the weekend in what should have been the Spartans’ opener against the Durban Heat, scuppered by rain.
But there are certainly worse places for De Villiers to instead tear from the blocks – at least that will be the wish of many, including Cricket South Africa - than SuperSport Park.
His brand of super-slugging is vital to any chance of the MSL taking off, both this year and onward, in the fashion it seriously needs to if the umbrella body are to turn around their parlous loss-making.
While much criticism of the MSL has been rightful, it is hardly the fault of CSA or the competition’s dedicated organisers that other appealing South African names like JP Duminy and Aiden Markram have been side-lined through injury.
De Villiers may still be a little rusty, not having played any competitive cricket (a period of more than two months) since a successful stint with Middlesex in the English T20 Vitality Blast competition between mid-July and very early September.
But that hasn’t always been an impediment to the bums-on-seats player hitting the ground running, has it?
Now it just needs the Highveld early summer weather to play ball on Wednesday for the “See AB” show; forecasts suggest some chance of interruption.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing