© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Born February 17, 1984, Abraham Benjamin ‘AB’ de Villiers is a South African cricketer and captain of their One-Day International (ODI) team. De Villiers averages over 50 in both Tests and ODIs, and leaves spectators gaping with his outrageous strokeplay. His wide range of strokes across all parts of the ground has earned him monikers such as ‘360 degree player’ and ‘superman’. A batting legend across eras, de Villiers is the owner of some of the most fascinating batting records and is widely regarded as the best batsman in the world. He is one of the most revered players across the globe at the moment and his popularity even beats that of the home team’s players’ while playing away. On his 33rd birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 20 facts from the life of the multi-talented sportsperson, who could’ve chosen any other sport, but cricket chose him.

1.  Early life: AB was born in Pretoria, Transvaal Province to a working couple Millie and Abraham Benjamin (who AB is named after). While his father was a doctor with a general practice, his mother worked in the field of property. He was raised in a small town named Warmbad where he learnt to play cricket among other sports playing with his older siblings — brothers Jan and Wessels.

2.  Sports-nut: AB went to Afrikaans Hoer Seunsskool, where future teammate Jacques Rudolph was his senior. Here he developed interest and skills in many field sports such as golf, rugby, badminton, swimming, cricket, hockey, athletics and tennis. He was part of the school’s U-14 cricket team and played golf at age level. He even made it to the U-16 hockey team of the school and was later shortlisted for South Africa’s junior national hockey team. When he was done with hockey, AB returned to rugby and played alongside players who would later represent South African rugby team. The fact that his parents and siblings too were good at multiple sports and played at least one game everyday helped him develop into a multi-talented sportsperson. Besides being a sports-nut, AB was also good at academics and was once awarded at the hands of Nelson Mandela for a school science project.

3.  The ‘cricket’ moment: Being good in sports more than one, AB could have made a career in any one of them; however, cricket chose him when he was a mere eight. The 1992 World Cup was on, and young AB saw Jonty Rhodes on the telly, making waves with his famous catches and run outs in the tournament. It made an impression on him, and he started dreaming of following in Jonty’s footsteps. This particular time in his life changed his direction towards cricket.

4.  First steps in cricket: AB’s passion and hard work saw him get into the South African Schools XI. Here, he was spotted by the Titans’ coach Dave Nosworthy, who gave him an opportunity to play for them against Canada in a 2003 World Cup warm-up game. It was the first time that AB played a televised game. The same year, he performed exceptionally well for the South African Under-19 team in England. The national call-up was just a matter of time now.

5.  Test debut and early days: AB made his Test debut at 20 in the 2004 against England. Opening batting, he scored 28 and 14 in his team’s loss. In the next match he was dropped down the batting order and was also given wicketkeeping duties. He excelled in the roles, scoring a fifty and effecting five dismissals in the match. In the final game of the series, he was again sent up the order, where he remained for the early part of his Test career. AB reached to the 1,000-run mark in Test cricket quickly, becoming the second-youngest and second-fastest South African to the milestone after Graeme Pollock.

6.  ODI debut: AB made his ODI debut a fortnight ahead of his 21st birthday in a tied game against the same opposition. His contribution in the match was 20 runs while opening the innings, a run out of England captain Michael Vaughan and a catch to dismiss Paul Collingwood.

7.  Batting records: AB has a number of batting records to his name. They include:

  • On January 18, 2015, AB scored the fastest fifty in ODIs in 16 balls against West Indies at Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, eclipsing Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jayasuriya’s record of 17 balls.
  • In the same match, he also went on to score the fastest ODI hundred in 31 balls, breaking New Zealand’s Corey Anderson’s record of hundred in 36 balls. His final score read 149 off just 44 balls.
  • On February 27, 2015, AB scored the fastest hundred and fifty in ODIs off just 64 balls against the same opposition at SCG, Australia.
  • His record for most consecutive Tests without missing a single since his debut (98) has been bettered only by New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, who recently became the only player to play 100 consecutive Tests since debut.
  • AB is the fastest player to reach 8,000 runs in ODIs.
  • He holds the joint record for most sixes (16) in an innings in an ODI along with Rohit Sharma and Chris Gayle. He hit them en route the fastest ODI hundred.
  • AB also holds the record for the fastest hundred hit by a South African in Tests — off 75 balls against India at Centurion in 2010-11.

8. World Cups: De Villiers is the highest run-scorer for the Proteas in the history of World Cup cricket. In 23 matches across three World Cups, he has scored 1,207 runs at a majestic 63.52. He has also hit 4 hundreds (and has also taken 4 wickets!). During the 2007 World Cup, his first for his country, he also created a rather unwanted record of registering four ducks in a series. However, he also notched the scores of 62, 92 and 146, his first ODI century, in the same tournament. He also holds the record for the most sixes in Cricket World Cup (37 sixes) along with Gayle.

9.  Wicketkeeping record: In February 2013, de Villiers scored an unbeaten 103 off 117 balls in a Test against Pakistan. In the same match, he effected 11 dismissals while keeping the wickets. In the process, he became the first wicketkeeper to score a century and claim 10 dismissals in a Test.

10.  Indian Premier League: AB was signed by the Delhi Daredevils (DD) in the inaugural season of IPL. He played for the franchise for three seasons and since then, has been representing the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) franchise, where he enjoys tremendous respect and love from the team-mates, owner as well as the fans. He has two centuries to his name in the league, one each for the two franchises he has represented.

11.  AB the musician: Apart from sports, AB is good at music too. Along with his friend Ampie du Preez, he rolled out an album Maak Jou Drome Waar (Make Your Dream Come True) that topped the national music charts. Their motivational song Show Them Who You Are even became the anthem of the Proteas’ rise to victory against Australia in 2008-09. AB writes, compose and sings besides playing guitar, which he started learning when he was in Grade V. He also carries his guitar on his cricket tours and plays it whenever he has time. He loves listening to Snow Patrol and Collective Soul.

12.  A devout Christian: AB is a devout Christian with Bible being his favourite book. According to him, his faith means more to him than playing for his country. He claims that Jesus has been behind him all this while and has helped him achieve extraordinary things on the cricket field. “I am a devout Christian and would like to pursue a goal in this regard one day. I’d like start an initiative through which I can touch people’s lives and make the world a better place in whatever way I can,” he once said.

13.  Wah Taj!: AB is married to Danielle, whom he dated for close to three years before tying the knot in 2013. He proposed to his lady in style at the monument which is considered to be the epitome of love — The Taj Mahal in Agra, India and got married to her just days ahead of the sixth season of IPL. The couple has a son Abraham, born in July, 2015. Continuing with the trend, he has named the son after himself.

14.  Business ventures: Outside cricket, AB is a partner in his brothers’ fast-food businesses. The three brothers also plan to start a catering business together. This move is part of his long-term after-cricket strategy.

15.  Little-known things: AB is a self confessed Manchester United fan and a great fan of footballers Ryan Giggs and Ole Gunnar Solskjær. But it is Roger Federer he admires the most. His favourite movie is 2000 release Gladiator.

16.  Unfulfilled aspiration: AB once mentioned that had would have loved to be a doctor just like his father and regrets not being able to study medicine in his life.

17.  Philanthropist: AB is also a philanthropist by nature and is passionately involved with Francois Pienaar’s Make a Difference Foundation, an organization that gives underprivileged children an opportunity to attend the country’s best schools. AB also adopted a young child in this regard as he mentors him at school in Johannesburg and donates 100 per cent of his fee for giving weekly radio interviews to M.A.D.

18.  Magnanimous AB: AB has a heart of gold. He never wants to disappoint his fans who wait for hours to get his autograph. So, he has arranged to print, at his own cost, postcards with a photograph and space for him to sign. He carries them in his kit and hands out to youngsters who stand and wait, craving for his autograph.

19.  Awards and honours: AB has won a number of awards during his career. He has been awarded with the ICC ODI player of the award thrice in 2010, 2014 and 2015. For his exceptional performances, he was voted South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year for the second successive season in 2015, thus becoming the first Proteas player to achieve the feat. He has also topped ICC rankings for best Test and ODI batsman for a substantial part of his career.

20.  Retirement rumours: Recently, there were rumours of AB’s retirement from at least one format of the game to manage his work load. The reports were later denied by him. AB had once mentioned in an interview with SA Sports Illustrated in mid-2009 that there was no chance he will keep playing till 40, as he believed there is more to life than just playing cricket for 25 years. He also stated that he will definitely find the right time to retire, hinting he might do so when he starts his family. With the birth of his first son last year, don’t be surprised if he makes an announcement in this regard sometime soon.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)