For our entire lives, we thought there were two ways to remember and hail AB De Villiers.
First was the sheer statistical wizardry of his accomplishments, where each numeric seemed to double with every passing trickle- 114 Tests, 228 ODIs, 47 hundreds, 99 fifties, all of which produced 18000 international runs.
The second was the sheer absurdity of quickness with which AB ruled score-sheets for his 22-yard exploits.
Picture the 66-ball-162 or the 44-ball-149, both record scores; both indicating the lion was too great an ordeal for the mouse to combat.
Now, there seems to be a third and defiant way in which we could remember AB.
Perhaps he was so true and honest an athlete that even his retirement echoed the same essence with which he batted. The shock-value accompanying his departure reminding one of the surprises he produced with the bat.
Perhaps there was a sense in not restricting AB De Villiers in the tag of ‘world’s best batsmen’. At some basic fan-level, it seems fine to see modern maestros- Virat, Williamson, Smith, Root- contending for the title.
But De Villiers didn’t fit there.
He was that pie all wanted to taste. Perhaps he was that scrumptious a cricketing offering our taste buds weren’t designed to relish sufficiently.
Whether you do a non-stop YouTube run of his incredible Port Elizabeth knock of 126 off 146 against Australia early this year or that feisty 2010 effort where his 129 deflated Dhoni’s India, there are some thirsts that can’t be quenched.
They won’t ever be.
Similarly, AB’s postcards of carnage- a 149 off 44 balls versus Windies and a flashy semi-final 65 off 45 against New Zealand in 2015 won’t fill that fan-reservoir that craves constantly.
Maybe, it was because De Villiers was more. Way more.
There are batsmen who aim at rankings. Then there are those that rankings aspire to match. You know where to put AB De Villiers. It’s literally needless to point to his truckload of ICC awards; they were a given.
When it comes to ingenious elements like AB- you revel in the ecstasy of catches he plucked seemingly out of thin air. Shouldn’t he be credited for making us mortals believe more in the concept of superheroes? That day against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, De Villiers didn’t take a blinder.
He proved again he wasn’t from this earth.
He wasn’t just a teammate. He was a brother disguised as a batsman and an emperor prevailing in the guise of a captain. He peeled opponents akin to the effort you take to remove a wrapper from your favourite candy. Those roars of celebration weren’t disguised in mockery to run down opponents.
He was here to lift the game and uphold the spirit of cricket that despite having greats like him, Dravid, Hussey, Kallis- continued to make inroads with dirty sagas like spot-fixing.
So universal was De Villiers’ appeal in the sport that those who played alongside, and those against, seemed united in admiration.
He was that virtual friend you couldn’t ‘unfriend’; an app you didn’t want to delete, a wallpaper there was no sense in removing.
All their lives, batsmen stay in a hunt for finding the batting code. De Villiers, was busy in re-coding it, time and again.
How much time can you possibly have to shuffle back to the crease and hoist a pacer over deep mid wicket for a six? A great mystery of modern cricket would always be to discover whether what AB was doing was just batting or tap dancing at the wicket?
And yet, no wry smiles.
No mind games.
He was always undefeated even in defeats.
AB kept his head high, but never higher than the spirit of the game.
It also has to be said, so humungous was that appetite for destruction, a broad range of strokes bringing a divided geography of fans closer in appreciation that had he ever wielded a professional camera, De Villiers’ preferred mode of operation would, by default, read ‘panoramic’.
You understand the great folly of cricket when it brings curtains on an unforgettable career. And you also bow your head in appreciation when it earns you a rare chance to experience levitation.
When he was toying with Indian bowlers during Ahmedabad’s double hundred and his 174 against England at Headingley- both in 2008- AB was sucking the life out of players several years experienced than him.
He was both heaven and hell on the cricketing turf; an interaction a bowler unwillingly had with a bat-wielding devil, albeit, one with a heart.
Not since Brian Lara has the modern game seen another willow wielder whose massacring was a bit of both- a healing embrace from the rigours of seeing constant cricket and a reminder to worship flair.
And to submit that he was merely an astonishing smasher of the cricket ball, or this beast from Pretoria would be reducing the AB-effect
Cricket with AB De Villiers in it was as rich as a pipe-smoking millionaire habitual of counting mega bucks every single day. His earnings- read collecting of runs- was for a charitable cause. His intent seemed to bring a smile to people’s face.
Cricket without AB De Villiers feels as if the sport has lost a supernatural presence that was veiled in a human form. It may not have been godly, for it did cause destruction and disconsolate faces and drooping shoulders of bowlers.
But it was, for a period that lasted nearly 13 years, an element of the sublime.
There are players you sledge. There are those you swear to bring down. Then there are those you can’t help but applaud, in an immensity of appreciation, despite them dismantling you down- brick-by-brick, layer-by-layer.
When De Villiers exhibited his full range of innovative strokes against Hyderabad’s Dale Steyn ( IPL 2014), there was little surprise his fellow countryman joined hands with respect.
You couldn’t possibly be angered by AB.
You allowed him to astonish you.
It was only his right. It couldn’t be snatched away.
Imagine Cricket’s Leonardo Da Vinci engaging with the world using pixels. Imagine a revolutionary with a graffiti spray can, pumping the chest with pride, at having painted and reimagined a canvass using sheer artistic virtuosity.
De Villiers, for all he did and couldn’t, for all peaks he summited and couldn’t, was a bit of a rockstar who knew how to produce melody with heavy-metal.
And how befittingly sad is it that the very words he echoed at having failed to take his South Africa into the finals (World Cup 2015) are beating in our hearts, as he bows out suddenly.
Aren’t you feeling, “Gutted..absolutely, gutted!?”