Even as South Africa are trying to come to terms with their stunning submission in the Emerald Isles, AB de Villiers’ comments throw some insight on perhaps what could be ailing some in the Indian dressing room on the distant shores of England.
It is headline grabbing when a player of the stature of AB de Villiers terms his time as an international cricketer ‘unbearable’ in terms of pressure. It is widely considered that only cricketers above a certain cut in terms of skill, adaptability and temperament make it to the highest level of the sport and that only the very best survive as long as de Villiers did, beginning his international career in 2004 and announcing his retirement from international cricket in the wake of the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year.
On the face of it, it is shocking to hear de Villiers talking about the pressure of performing at the highest level being almost insurmountable, this despite the fact that the supremely adaptive batsman is one of the most versatile batsmen in world cricket with a combined century score of forty-seven hundreds across Test cricket and one day internationals with more than 18,000 runs in the two formats.
However, the former South African cricket and captain, who coveted the captaincy but could not sustain his interest in the role and responsibility long enough, could be speaking on behalf on some highly acclaimed cricketers who, despite their obvious talent and extraordinary successes, have had to face a lot of pressure personally speaking, shouldering not only the phenomenal expectations but also, having to lift the burden of responsibility for the team as well.
It does divide the cricket world into two halves: the cricketers who embrace their talent and covet the responsibility and those, despite all of the majestic repertoire never quite loved the limelight and expectations. Given that AB de Villiers’s retirement was something of a concern after that he gave up the captaincy in segregated fashion across 2016 and 2017 and returned to Test cricket early this year only to be done with it by April/May suggests that this is a cricketer who has had to weigh his talent with the overwhelming responsibility of carrying the weight of the nation while balancing time away from home and a young family, particularly when touring overseas.
To a certain extent, it explains why some cricketers, particularly away from home, never quite match the expectations often brought about by their own promising performances back home and/or in the past. It is sometimes hard to explain why the best of cricketers – even technically correct – land up with a challenge in their lap and are unable to convert their potential into a consistent performance. That de Villiers has carried on as long as he has and the very fact that he claims to have no immediate withdrawal symptoms suggests that this is something he has wrestled with so long, he perhaps feels as if he has finally allowed himself to take off the heavy cloak that weighed him down.
Is it the self-imposed expectations versus the clash with the reality of a hectic schedule and shouldering multiple team expectations that are at collision for most talented players with the best of on-field temperament?
Given South Africa’s turbulent history since readmission to shed the sometimes unkind tag of ‘chokers’, the constant pressure to convert potential of a technically sound team into a team that can consistently consist at the top, it is not surprising that South African cricketers, some of the best around the world amongst their contemporaries, have had to live with the dichotomy of a career par excellence in personal numbers but coming up as one more short to take South Africa to the pinnacle of World Cup and rankings.
Given that AB himself coveted the captaincy, was dismayed when Hashim Amla was picked ahead of him and seemed jaded by the reality of what entails being the captain of the South African team, as shocking as that headline may seem, AB throws insight into the mindset and muddles of the modern day cricketer, which arguably are similar and yet different to cricketers of the past, not necessarily unique to his generation of illustrious cricketers but one that get trickier as cricket is being pulled in many directions.