When he jumped in the air, defying gravity, to pluck the speeding ball, seemingly destined to land in the stands, AB de Villiers was doing what he had done so often in his morethan- decade long career — show his dynamic athletic skills and pull off a catch that would leave spectators rubbing their eyes in disbelief and gasping for breath. In taking this year’s catch of the Indian Premier League, De Villiers may have come up with something exceptional from even the outstanding fielding standards of the game these days. But for the player himself, the display of such acrobatic skills was routine.
Had he failed to take that catch, it would have probably been greater news. Significantly, if you freeze-frame the moments when the catch was taken and subsequent frames, you would notice his face in an exultant state, unabashedly exuding the joy and thrill of having pulled off yet another impossible feat.
It is the face of a child seeking admiration for his effort and not the expression of a man tired and bored with what he is doing. Surprisingly, even as television channels were repeating the footage of that incredible catch, De Villiers shocked the world by announcing his retirement from all formats of the game. What would make a man who had lost none of his breathtaking batting skills or his elasticity on the field, decide to walk away from his main occupation in life so far?
Boredom, fatigue, tiredness are words whose real meaning only the sufferer of these emotions can truly understand. For us, he was someone who redefined the very art of batting even though we live in an age where new strokes get invented almost every second. For this reason alone, even if one discounts his amazing range and depth as a batsman, De Villiers was a phenomenon, whose place in cricket history should be reserved among the best, if not the very best. Unlike an individual player, the spectators of sport keep growing and changing, the new replacing the old.
If one watcher gets bored of the game, there are a thousand others to replace him in appreciating and admiring skills that always remain timeless. De Villiers, just like a Don Bradman, a Garry Sobers, a Viv Richards, a Brian Lara and a Sachin Tendulkar before him, embodied that perfection which is a combination of many elements of rare quality that makes a genius come alive. We live in times where to be shy, quiet and generally remain understated in the tone and tenor of your verbal and physical expressions is no longer considered a virtue.
We have lost the art of listening to silence. May be De Villiers was the last of those who made you realise that a sportsperson’s craft is not always linked to his aggressive behavioural patterns. You don’t always need that explosive fuel and violent energy to motivate yourself to raise the bar, as many presentday mind analysts would like us to believe. What De Villiers did in the course of his many stunning feats is to show that a meditative, focused and fearless mind can be a tool of immense strength and power. There is little doubt that he will be missed by the cricketing world far more than they may have envisaged. The real value of what he has achieved and done for the sport will take some time to sink in.