AB de Villiers
AB de Villiers © Getty Images

Poof, and AB de Villiers is gone from international cricket. Just like that. No press conference; no time for the media or fans to prepare, nothing superstars do, absolutely nothing. A tweet, and probably a message in his official app; then the dreaded press release, and AB de Villiers, he of the ramp shot and goodness knows what, the most absurdly talented man cricket has produced for the past few decades, became a former international cricketer.

Let that sink in. AB de Villiers, the man with over 20,000 international runs, averaging over fifty in both Tests and ODIs, one of only two wicketkeepers with 11 dismissals in a Test, and the man with the fastest ODI fifty, hundred, and 150, won’t be playing for South Africa again.

I re-read the above paragraph twice, and I realised I couldn’t describe the man at all, even if I add the fact that he quoted Rabindranath Tagore in his autobiography.

AB de Villiers retires from international cricket
AB de Villiers retires from international cricket

You may add up the numbers and you will find it isn’t enough, for you never kept a count of the number of times AB made you stand up and stare at the television screen open-mouthed. You cannot sum up AB with numbers.

Then you may add up the memories (remember Wankhede chanting “Ey-bee-dee” as he romped to a hundred against India?) and still fall short, for what better than cold numbers to pay homage to the man?

Too many numbers flood the mind, too many memories, for cricket has not seen another like AB de Villiers.

He played more shots than I can name. What do you call a shot where a batsman gets down on his haunches and hits the ball over the slips, the face of the bat pointing upwards? How, exactly how does one slog-sweep a fast bowler from well outside off for six over fine-leg?

Didn’t these shots violate laws of physics and principles of physiology as we know them? Should a batsman, any batsman, be allowed to play them? Shouldn’t broadcasters keep a don’t-try-this-at-home disclaimer ready to follow every act of such bizarreness? What will children learn?

How does one capture the 146 he hit in a World Cup match at West Indies on one leg in words? Mind you, that came after he had scored three ducks in his six previous outings.

Immediately after de Villiers scored the fastest fifty and hundred in an ODI in the same innings, a meme appeared on the internet, mentioning that he couldn’t break Shane Watson’s record for the fastest 150. It took him another month to do that, that too in the World Cup.

Immediately after the second innings another meme flooded social media, this time depicting the 2015 World Cup logo as ninety-degree clockwise rotation of AB de Villiers.

Thus, when he became a father in July, Twitterati erupted.

Let me go back in time a bit. Tom Sueter taught the world that one can step out while batting. EM Grace played cross-batted. His brother WG played both forward and backward (instead of the previous norm of doing one, not both). Victor Trumper scored all around the ground. Don Bradman scored hundreds with ferocity hitherto unknown.

De Villiers, too, broke the shackles. The difference was that he did it in an era when the MCC coaching manual was no more holy gospel. In other words, he stood out as an innovator even in an era when shots were being mastered with every passing day.

And even then, despite breaking all sorts of norms of batsmanship, he scored runs, lots of them, and scored them quickly enough to give his bowlers ample time. He served and entertained, he changed course of matches, he won foreign crowds over, he made people nod in disbelief.

Indeed, he possessed the entire arsenal. You cannot expect a Sachin Tendulkar or a Brian Lara to fall on their back to pull off the perfect scoop for six over the wicketkeeper’s head.

You cannot expect a Brendon McCullum, despite his tremendous cross-batted muscling, to play that Lara cover-drive or that Tendulkar straight-drive.

You cannot expect Shahid Afridi to bat ten hours in Test cricket to hold the national Test record for a team.

You cannot expect Alastair Cook to score a 31-ball hundred (the sheer thought is too ridiculous to entertain).

You cannot expect Virender Sehwag to block his way to a chanceless 220-ball 33.

You cannot expect Kumar Sangakkara to average 57.41 as Test wicketkeeper (across 24 Tests).

You cannot expect Adam Gilchrist or MS Dhoni to average 70.54 along with a strike rate of over 100 as ODI wicketkeeper.

You cannot expect anyone in the world to average fifty with a strike rate of over a hundred in ODIs. No, nobody has, even in the T20 era, not anyone with a career aggregate of over 600 runs.

You see how the numbers are memories are so interlinked when it comes to the man? How do you distinguish one from the other with when it comes to that man? Didn’t that man manage to convert every memory into a number of some sort or every new record to an indelible memory?

Thanks for everything, boet. I really hope they don’t make one like you. Our generation deserves the right to you. Let those of the future, with their advanced internet speed and all that, be restricted to your videos.

We saw you bat. Live. We are the only ones to have.