JOHANNESBURG - It's possible a great many of us were wrong about AB de Villiers and his need for a break. After talking to him this week, I feel I was.
Perhaps the anger directed at De Villiers when he took his decision in February to skip tours and not avail himself in certain series’ was the result of how confusing it was at the time.
I said it looked like he was picking and choosing. It certainly appeared that way. Initially he wanted to play no part in Tests in New Zealand and England. Then it was Bangladesh. Then he wasn’t sure if he would return to first-class cricket, but said he might because he may want to play against India. He wanted meetings with Cricket South Africa’s top brass and the new coach.
It did smack of the acts of a spoiled kid. Thankfully by October there was clarity from De Villiers.
Listening to him this week, the break has clearly been good for him. He’s had the opportunity to spend time with his family, get physically fitter and do some extended net sessions. He looks refreshed and sounds it too.
“I’ve always loved playing the game, and that’s the way it’s felt again this season,” De Villiers said.
In the seemingly interminable merry-go-round that is international cricket these days, with lucrative T20 tournaments putting even more of a squeeze on the players’ time, it is easy to forget that players need to find ways to improve.
De Villiers said as much.
“I’ve been hitting more balls than ever, working on skills I don’t often do," he said. "Personally, it’s been a great find, in the latter stages of my career, that no matter how many runs you score, you can still get better."
That’s an exciting prospect for the South African team and for the Proteas’ many supporters.
It also shows the great value in taking a proper break, to re-evaluate principles and re-ignite motivation.
De Villiers may have been somewhat muddled in the way he explained when he was taking leave from playing and lumping it all on wanting to be ready for the 2019 World Cup. However it’s clear his time away has shown him that there is more that he wants to achieve in the sport.
This new and refreshed player, an AB de Villiers 2.0 if you will, is the kind of element that can restore the Proteas to the top of the pile once more.
He has underlined the value of taking time off, and perhaps as the summer unfolds we will all become grateful that he did so.