Why now, AB? Questioning the timing of De Villiers’ retirement

No, it’s not a cleverly contrived conspiracy to detract from the Ashwin Willemse versus Nick Mallett controversy. AB de Villiers, indeed, has retired from all forms of international cricket – with immediate effect.

Wednesday’s announcement will be viewed as out of the blue by many, but the signs have been there for a while.

Regardless, his timing – probably influenced by another individually successful and lucrative stint in the Indian Premier League – will be heavily questioned.

He says, “It’s not about earning more somewhere else and I have no plans to play overseas,” but Morne Morkel insisted something similar – and was soon thereafter the recipient of a sexy Kolkpak contract.

One wonders what changed from last year, when de Villiers was pretty okay with selecting the series he played, to now, when he reckons, “it would not be right for me to pick and choose where, when and in what format I play for the Proteas.”

In a lot of ways, he’s done the right thing by “retiring while still playing decent cricket.” Guys like Ricky Ponting didn’t exit early enough – and effectively jumped before they were pushed. On the other hand, he probably had a lot more to give – and owed a few more years to fans.

At the very least, he might have left Test cricket behind and just played ODI and T20I competition. Several cricketers have prolonged their international careers by doing this, effectively doubling their family time by halving their country commitments. Then again, de Villiers is ‘an all or nothing’ character – ditching one format probably wouldn’t have sat well with his cricketing integrity.

He finishes fourth in the country’s Test run-scoring ranks, behind Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla. He was just 400-odd short of finishing second only to Kallis. Those could have come against Sri Lanka in July or Pakistan in December. Instead, he’ll be enjoying the winter with his family and festive holidays with friends. Let’s hope he is not lost to South African cricket entirely – and sticks to his words: “I hope I can continue to be available for the Titans in domestic cricket.”

Now, well, it’s a string of pretenders’ time to shine in the wake of the great man’s retirement. Hashim Amla’s departure can’t be too far off either. Those ordinary middle-order men – Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn in particular – have to stop being average and start being really good, if not great.

Then, in terms of ODI cricket, there’s the small matter of the World Cup – never won by arguably the greatest limited-overs batsman of all time. The next World Cup is just 12 months away – could de Villiers not have staved off retirement for that last hurrah…?

By Jonhenry Wilson