Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, AB DE VILLIERS talks about retiring on his own terms, what he makes of South Africa’s batting woes and why the Proteas won’t head into the 2019 World Cup as favourites.
Sport24 asked: How's life been treating you since international retirement?
AB de Villiers: I have been very well and there are no complaints from my side. The 10 months since I made the announcement that I would be retiring from international cricket, with immediate effect, have been good and I’m feeling quite fresh to be honest. I am based in Pretoria and it’s been nice to be home more often than during my 14-year career with the Proteas. I have been spending a lot of quality time with my young family, but am also swinging the willow at times. For me, it’s absolutely the best of both worlds. I’m aged 35 and have had a really nice career and have enjoyed every second. However, I have reached a stage now where I really want to focus on the enjoyment factor both with the family and my cricket. I have participated in a few T20 events around the world but, with all of them, I have only spent between three and four weeks away from home, which is refreshing. Money wasn’t the motivating factor in calling time on my international career and focusing on T20 cricket. If I was here to make as much money as I can, I would be playing 10 to 12 tournaments a year. The Mzansi Super League, IPL, PSL and the BPL are the only T20 tournaments that I’ve played in. It’s definitely not about the money otherwise I would have played in double the events that I have. (De Villiers will also be playing county cricket, having signed with Middlesex and will feature in the T20 Blast, which begins in July). I’m delighted to be joining Middlesex for the Vitality Blast and I’ve always wanted to play county cricket in the UK. It will be a great experience.
Sport24 asked: Do you have any regrets in terms of your then shock decision?
AB de Villiers: I have no regrets. I understand there were some emotions from the public when I retired, but ultimately I had to be true to myself and what I felt 10 months back. It was time to move on. I respect everyone’s opinions and emotions. Some said I should have gone on for longer, whereas others understood where I was coming from. You can’t keep everyone happy and it’s part of life I guess. But one thing is for sure, I’m happy and confident that I made the right decision. I have enjoyed sitting on the side and have chatted to some of the players after the game and still feel involved. It’s great to see that the boys are doing well and, from my side, there are no hard feelings. I’m just enjoying life at the moment and happy that I have the opportunity to still wield the willow. I’m not 100% sure what the guys feel on the other side - the coach, the captain and the team. However, I’m pretty sure that they respect my decision and they have moved on really well. I can’t wait to watch the boys go to England and win the World Cup. I will be the biggest supporter of the gents while they play and hopefully they will lift the coveted trophy. I am proud and absolutely impressed with the way in which the Proteas have become a more diverse team, but not surprised.
Sport24 asked: What are your thoughts ahead of the World Cup in the UK?
AB de Villiers: The World Cup is a tough tournament. I have played in three of them and it’s never easy. You always feel like you’ve got a good squad, but once the tournament starts you very quickly understand that there are a lot of teams that are there to win it and have the ability to do so. Playing at a World Cup is as high pressure as you can get and tournament cricket is pretty intense. I do believe South Africa have a chance, like we did at any other World Cup, because we are a world-class team with plenty of match-winners. The Proteas are certainly in the running, but I won’t say they are the favourites to be honest with you. India and England are looking strong, Australia have won five World Cups in the past and Pakistan claimed the Champions Trophy in the UK two years ago. Those four teams are probably the favourites, but the way the Proteas have been playing in the 50-over format of late has been encouraging. Some of South Africa’s batsmen and bowlers are ranked within the top 10 in the world, so of course we have a chance. However, to say that the Proteas are favourites would be difficult... If South Africa win the Cricket World Cup, I don’t think we will be able to compare it to the 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph, which united the nation. However, it will definitely have a huge impact on our country. Things aren’t easy in South Africa and haven’t been for a while now, but winning a major sporting event could definitely help in getting things back on track.
Sport24 asked: What have you made of Faf Du Plessis' national evolution?
AB de Villiers: I was part of the conversation when he came back from Lancashire to play for South Africa and we are all very happy that he did. Months later, his opportunity to play for the Proteas opened up. I am very proud of the way he has performed over the years. He is a fantastic player and proving to be a great captain as well. We have come a long way together - we have known each other for about 25 years - and I am just happy that we had the opportunity to play together for the Proteas for quite a few years because I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do believe Faf will go down as one of the best South African cricket captains ever. I wouldn’t look to compare him to past leaders because he is different to all the captains I played under... He did mention something about stepping down post this World Cup, but may still play the T20 World Cup in 2020. We will see what happens, but he’s had a great career and hopefully he finishes on a high with a couple of trophies for South Africa.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the player drain to the northern hemisphere?
AB de Villiers: I don’t know what the solution is to the player drain, but I definitely agree that they (Cricket South Africa) will have to be more proactive. In a way they are forced to be otherwise they are set to lose more players. But it’s not only for CSA and applies to all cricket boards around the world. The ICC will also have to be proactive to make sure that international cricket always remains the cherry on the cake. Taking up a Kolpak contract is a personal decision and I can’t answer on behalf of over 100 players and what their mindsets will be like. There is no doubt that there will still be players that will pursue the Kolpak route because it offers opportunity and job security. Players will certainly be heading over to the UK to pick up some experience and to become better cricketers, while other players might stay in South Africa, become some of the best in the world and represent their country for a long period of time. I wasn’t there when Duanne Olivier found his way in Test cricket for South Africa and nor was I involved when he made his decision to depart, but I respect what he has done.
Sport24 asked: What are your impressions of Virat Kohli's recent exploits?
AB de Villiers: Virat’s performances over the last while have been incredible and I can’t see it stopping very soon. I have played with him for eight years now in the IPL and you can never take the class out of the guy. However, he is human after all and, like any other cricketer, he will go through patches from time to time where he has to go back to the basics and work his way through it again. I believe it’s his personality and mental strength that gets him through those moments and makes him the best ODI player in the world at the moment. I see lots of similarities between myself and Virat. We are both fighters and don’t enjoy losing, we love batting together and taking the game away from teams. (De Villiers has left South Africa to partake in the IPL, which starts on 23 March).
Sport24 asked: What have you made of South Africa's batting difficulties?
AB de Villiers: Nothing has really changed and while I was still there we also found ourselves in some difficult times with the bat in hand, but that’s normal. It’s cricket, which is up and down and it’s not supposed to be scores of 300-plus in every game you play otherwise it would be pretty boring to be honest with you. I have always seen the game in the sense that you have to earn the right to dominate the bowlers no matter what format you play in. There are some inexperienced players at the moment in the Proteas team but, at the same time, they also look very confident. It (the batting issue) is similar to most other teams, so I believe they are going to be just fine in the World Cup. From a personal standpoint, my ability to play all around the wicket is more mindset than anything else. I was brought up to always see the glass half full instead of half empty and played my cricket that way. I have always just wanted to have an impact on winning the game and I had to find a way to be a little bit creative at times. Scoring doesn’t always come easily, which is why I say you have to earn the right. I never practiced the type of shots I pulled off in matches - it kind of just happened during the match situation owing to my deep desire and hunger to win games of cricket. (De Villiers still holds the ODI record for the fastest 50 (16 balls), fastest 100 (31 balls) and fastest 150 (64 balls).