AB De Villiers, the Mr. 360 of cricket, announced his retirement from international cricket yesterday. This had to happen & would have been equally sad whenever it would have, for even legends have to call it a day sometime. ABD says he is retiring because he is “tired”. Now this is something not easily digested. Not only the most entertaining & awe-inspiring, he was also an extremely fit & athletic cricketer. I think the reasons go beyond cricket & I am hazarding a few guesses what those could be…
Is he looking at a post-cricket sports career in another sport. We already have Usain Bolt who is evaluating a stint in pro soccer in Bundesliga. And ABD has been proficient in other sports too. In fact, he played hockey, football, rugby, tennis & badminton for South Africa as a junior. Maybe, he is considering a return to one of these or some other sport where he could utilise the skills he so splendidly displayed while playing cricket. But I think, it will be definitely a contact sport. Playing cricket at the top level for such a long time makes players such as ABD experts in avoiding unwanted contact, with not just other players but also other elements of the game like bookies, journalists, etc. When avoiding a sliding tackle by a defender, ABD will thank his clean record while in international cricket.
We also need to acknowledge that cricketers of today play a lot more cricket all year round than their predecessors. This takes a heavy toll on their body. We have already seen MS Dhoni, another very fit cricketer, playing only the limited overs variety for this very reason. Players such as ABD & MSD give it their all when on the field. As the body ages, the physical capacity also reduces. Like MSD, ABD could also have opted to play the shorter versions of the game. But he didn’t. I think this is because he plays for RCB in the IPL, which necessitates staying in Bangalore. It is actually the Bangalore traffic that is tiring not a 40-over game of cricket. Imagine going to (and returning from) the nets or an IPL match on the Bangalore roads. And ABD had to hit all those amazing shots & take unbelievable catches. While ABD is only “tired”, ordinary mortals would be exhausted by the time they took the field. Maybe, he should have moved on to another franchise, say Kings XI. But that’s something ordinary people do.
Cricket is no longer a lazy gentleman’s game (the game being lazy, not the gentlemen). Especially the 20-20 version. It is adrenaline charged, high energy game from start to finish with packed stands cheering (or booing) every ball or shot. And with stakes so high, it is also a mental game. At the end of the day, a player is bound to be drained out physically, mentally & emotionally. It is for this reason, the promoters hold post-match parties for the teams & guests. This helps the players to totally forget the on-field action & wake up the next day mentally fresh & emotionally stronger. But with the King of Good Times, the singular Mr. Vijay Mallya, no longer around, I doubt the RCB’s post-match celebrations any longer help. Perhaps, this is why ABD said he has “run out of gas”.
Have you been also intrigued by the date of announcement? The day he tweeted his plans, a new CM was taking oath of office in Bangalore. After a week of political games that were as beguiling & had as much drama as an IPL match. But this was totally different than the way ABD played his cricket. In the way that a team won on the basis of how it played & consequently, result of the match. Or the manner a player’s performance was appreciated even if he happened to be in the other team. Or, walking off even before the umpire declared him out. But what happened in Bangalore on the days leading to ABD declaring his retirement from international cricket was just not cricket. An absence of honesty, integrity, ethics. How soon before cricket too embraced the ways of the outside world? ABD simply signed off before that happened. Leaving behind unforgettable memories for the fans to savour on a rained-out match day.