Cape Town – AB de Villiers’ Instagram post announcing his retirement had just three words imprinted on it. It all said the same thing, but the message was supremely powerful.
It was simply “Thank you” in three different languages. The first was in English, of course, followed by “Dankie” in his native Afrikaans. But it was the third that had the biggest impact.
De Villiers had scripted “Dhanyavaad” in Hindi. It spoke volumes of the respect the former Proteas captain has for the Indian public. It is their fanatical passion for the game that led to the creation of the “Mr 360” which transformed De Villiers’ life in a manner he could hardly ever imagined whilst playing in the back garden with his brothers back in Bela Bela all those years ago.
In a land of a myriad of Gods, the adulation that De Villiers received from his followers over the years on the subcontinent, particularly in India, places him among the ranks of the “demi-Gods”. He undoubtedly entertained the masses with his audacious shot-making and electrifying fielding over a decade-long period in the Indian Premier League. And in return they showered him with the type of love and affection that no foreigner is yet to experience.
De Villiers was unique in that regardless of whether he was playing for the Proteas against India in Bangalore, Mumbai or Delhi, he would still be accompanied to the crease with shrieks of “ABEE, ABEE, ABEE” ringing in his ears from the local fans.
He was able to capture a billion-wide audience, have them eat out the palm of his hand, which in turn enabled his brand team to capitalise on it to ensure that De Villiers is one of the most well-marketed, and in turn, richest cricketers on the planet.
De Villiers is arguably the Cristiano Ronaldo of cricket. The first truly global superstar.
De Villiers’ strained relationship with his own country’s fans due to the on-going fiasco related to whether he would step out of international retirement for the 2019 World Cup or the recently-completed T20 World Cup in the UAE is not a point of discussion here.
This is simply a tribute to how De Villiers literally helped put the IPL on the map in countries all over the world. Although having started his IPL career at Delhi, it was the move to Bangalore to join the Royal Challengers that set this jet plane in motion.
Along with his captain Virat Kohli, and once teammate Chris Gayle, there was no more destructive force in world cricket. Coupled with the fact that De Villiers and Kohli shared a #bromance, which they often reminded everyone of on social media, that surpassed even his schoolboy friendship with former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis, it was a match made in cricket heaven.
It was no wonder Kohli posted this glowing tribute upon De Villiers’ retirement from all cricket on Friday. “To the best player of our times and the most inspirational person I've met, you can be very proud of what you've done and what you've given to RCB my brother. Our bond is beyond the game and will always be,” Kohli tweeted.
De Villiers will have his critics, particularly in terms of not being able to drive RCB to the IPL title – or the Proteas for that matter to a global championship – despite his many breathtaking individual innings.
But that would be to ignore the fact that Abraham Benjamin De Villiers was pure unadulterated box-office entertainment that brought joy to millions and millions of people everywhere for so long. And for that all we can say is an eternal Thank you!