South African cricketer AB de Villiers opens up on his game, becoming a father and being a mentor to the youngsters in a candid chat with Mitrajit Bhattacharya
Very rarely does an international cricketer still at the top takes a break from play. What made you do so last year?
I didn’t quit. I took myself away from the game for a few months as I became a dad. I am a father of two boys now and those are the things which are really important for me. I needed some time away from the game, just to experience the amazing feeling of becoming a father and to be there watching my boys grow up. I still love a spending time with my family, so I am taking one game at a time. I am 34 now and know that I am not going to play forever. But I am very happy with the way I am playing my cricket now.
Are you charged enough to get back to the game fully?
I missed cricket, I am enjoying it more than ever. I have been playing for a long time and it’s now that I have started enjoying certain things, in the last 12 months or so. I like hooking up with the boys in the team, getting to know some of the youngsters, showing them the way forward and hopefully have a positive Influence on them. These are things which I had never experienced while growing up as a young cricketer. Now I am in a space where I give back a bit to guys like Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada; all these guys are very thirsty and hungry to experience and learn from the seniors. It’s up to the critics to say whether I am in the best form of my life, as far cricket and performances are concerned. I think I am doing pretty well. We had a great series in South Africa against Australia and I am enjoying IPL this year.
How does it feel to be loved by fans across the world, irrespective of the teams they follow?
It is a great privilege particularly in India; this is the 11th season of IPL that I am coming back to. I experience new things every year I play here. All I can say is that I love playing the game, have a smile on my face when I am playing because I enjoy it. Maybe people around the world enjoy watching me enjoying my game, and that can be contagious. Maybe that’s why I have got a decent following around the world. I would like to think that my feet are still on the ground and that’s the way I was brought up and that’s not going to change.
What according to you have been the high and low points of your international cricketing career?
I would say every time I go out to play for any team, be it in IPL, South Africa, Barbados (In CPL). I love playing the game and I am fortunate to run around to do what I love to do and do it well. There are lots of performance related highlights throughout my career. I have learned not to touch those things because it’s so fickle in sports that one minute you are on top of the world and next you are down. I don’t like to single out those moments. There are lots of high and lots of low but I have learned over my past 14/15 years of playing international cricket, not to rely on them too much and not to single out the performances.
You have been an integral part of IPL and RCB over the years. How has been the journey?
It’s been amazing. It has changed my life completely. I can’t believe that it’s the 11th season already. Incredible friendships have been the biggest highlight of my IPL career. I came to know some amazing people well, from Glenn McGrath to Virat Kohli. I have made some amazing friends that will never change. It has impacted my life in a way. I love coming back here and hopefully for many more years to come.
Any comments on Virat Kohli- the person, cricketer, and leader?
He is a great guy; I don’t think a lot of people know that off the field. He has quite a soft heart actually. He doesn’t show on the field, where he is very emotional and passionate about what he does and does it so well. Off the field, he puts his spectacle up, doesn’t speak much, and actually is pretty quiet. He recently got married and he is in a very good space in life right now. He is a great friend of mine. I have learned a lot from him. I would love to think, he has learned from me as well. As a captain he is passionate, he has learned to deal with his emotions a lot better in the past few years. Maybe he was too emotional a few years back. It is showing in his performance and his team’s performance all around the world. He has done very well. India has had a very successful tour in South Africa and that is largely because of his captaincy.
Which teams are shaping up well for the ICC World Cup next year?
My own team will always be my favourite. England has also played some good cricket in the past 3 to 5 years. Their ODI team has recovered very well after the last World Cup. India won the Champions Trophy, so did Pakistan. I will never write off the subcontinent teams, they always play well in England. And I would love to believe that South Africa has good chance this time.
Any bright young talent you have seen playing in IPL who you think would make to the Indian T20/ODI team soon?
There are too many to mention, to be honest, it’s great to see how IPL has changed cricket in India. In IPL, Delhi batsmen Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw are very talented and among the bowlers, Siddarth Kaul from Sunrisers Hyderabad has been exceptional. Also, Mayank Markande from Mumbai Indians. There are so many of them that I think it’s time for South Africa to have a tournament like this. So many talents have emerged from IPL,it has been great for Indian cricket.
You are also the brand ambassador of Montblanc for the India and South Africa markets. What does this association mean to you?
It’s an amazing honour and privilege to be associated with the brand or the Maison, as they call themselves. Growing up, I looked up to their writing instruments, leather products, and watches, and to get actually my hands on them and be a brand ambassador of a Maison like this is a great honour. I think in the relationship between myself and Montblanc, there are lots of similarities in a way. I love being innovative in my play, so are they. They have a long heritage and though I haven’t played for that long, still 14/15 years of international cricket is quite a bit and hopefully many more to come. I love travelling, see different cultures in different countries. So it goes in hand with the brand.
Have you seen the new Montblanc Meisterstück Le Petit Price? What are your comments?
I think it’s incredible. Usually Meisterstück is in black and I think they have taken a big step in a new direction to launch this one in blue and it is a fantastic story, of paying tribute to the story of that Little Prince. It is a story that we have heard many times. My parents used to read it to me. I will read out to my boys when they grow up. It’s a great tale of imagination and friendship. I think it’s wonderful that Montblanc is associating like this.
Personally speaking, what does the character of The Little Prince mean to you?
When I read this story I often feel that it’s me in the book. He is just the happy guy who makes friends wherever he goes and in this case with the fox. It’s quite interesting. I have always been a dreamer. One of my biggest quirks has been about dreams and chasing those dreams. I relate to the story a lot.
Any favourite Montblanc watch for you?
The one I am wearing (shows me)-from the 1858 collection, the bronze goes so well with my skin colour. It’s not so serious. I like serious watches too but this one goes with my personality better. Summertime, South Africa, there is no better watch to wear. I love the tan colour of the leather strap and the way bronze colours is beautiful. It matures with the time. I love that.
Any message for the Indian fans who love you so much?
Incredible India, there is so much to say, there is a huge following of the game of cricket here. That opens my eyes not only to the game but to life, in a way. I absolutely love that about India. Coming here, seeing the people so passionate about the sport I love and I grew up playing. What I would love to say to the friends in India is to keep following their team. It’s a very inspirational story how India managed to win the last World Cup with MS (Dhoni) right here, at home. It was a great experience to be part of that even though we lost in the quarters, just to see tournament unfold. It was great to beat India in the World Cup, though we didn’t win the tournament. India is a country of dreams and the story about the Little Prince relates to the country in many ways. As a country, India is going places.