AB de Villiers celebrates his century at Boland Park yesterday. It was the master batsman’s 25th ODI ton. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Have you noticed that the very best sports people in the world rarely end up as the top coaches in their fields?

Draw up a list of the greatest players ever and compare it to a list of the ultimate coaches.

Soccer’s Zinedine Zidane is perhaps an exception, but in most sports the thesis holds.

Why is this? You would think that the greatest players of all time would be held in such awe by sportsmen and women that walls would be run through for them.

Secrets and techniques could be passed on and accepted readily and their charges would thus also campaign, conquer and join their mentors at or near the top.

Establishing credibility would not be an issue.

In business it happens. So many tycoons point to legends who inspired and taught them invaluable lessons.

Why not in sport? It is not as though they have not tried.

Sir Bobby Charlton tried managing Preston North End with no success and, of course, Diego Maradona became an object of ridicule when he took control of Argentina. He was the greatest soccer player of them all. Bar none.

Other examples in many sports abound.

The reason, probably, is to do with their lavish gifts. Most sports legends are genetically endowed to succeed in the sports they choose. Physically they win the lottery and in some sports, they then develop minds and attitudes that can produce brilliance.

Along the way, by design or luck, they hone their given abilities and the results are history.

Sir Donald Bradman, arguably the greatest sportsman of them all – just look at the gap between him and the next in his sport – invented a game on the farm involving a cricket stump and a golf ball. Unwittingly, he thus mastered the ability to instantly and correctly read length.

Coincidentally, Barry Richards hit on a similar practise when he was a kid.

The point is that they possess massive advantages at birth and go on to realise their potential – as opposed to wasters who fall or solid citizens who manufacture a level that is competent or even good.

Without the birthright, true greatness can perhaps, in most sports, never be attained.

Coaches at all levels have to deal with the relative good, bad and ugly.

Perhaps their main challenge is, rather than polishing the diamonds, bringing the donkeys up to speed.

This is where the legends fail as coaches.

They simply cannot comprehend what it is like being average and so battle to deal with it in practise.

It makes sense.

During his sabbatical, many of us were quite cross with AB de Villiers.

Yes, he had injuries. Yes, he has a growing family. Yes, he is planning for a career after cricket. We get all of that, but that’s life.

Somehow the message came across that he wants to pick and choose the matches he plays. In sport that is never going to fly.

Sports people do for money what the rest do for fun and relaxation. For passion.

Hinting that this is a struggle when large sums are also on offer was a PR disaster.

AB unwittingly trod hard on our dreams. That is, rightly or wrongly, how it came across and many were peeved.

It was all forgotten on Wednesday.

The pitch was not easy. The Bangladesh bowlers made inroads and at 90 for two, you felt the score would be modest.

Fifteen fours and seven sixes later, in just 104 balls, AB holed out for 176.

However, it was the freedom that made the knock special. There was literally nowhere to bowl to him. He even started to trigger move responses from the poor bowlers that he dispatched with disdain.

Once again we realised just how gifted the man is and his master class lifted our spirits. That is what sport is supposed to do.

For a moment we even forgot the shambolic leadership in the country and, in cricket, we temporarily didn’t feel the nagging concerns about the T20 Global League fiasco. Much to come there, I fear.

Thanks, AB, for that. The greatest compliment to be paid to you as a cricketer is that you will be hopeless as a coach. No chance. Congratulations.

* John Robbie is a former British and Irish Lions, Ireland and Transvaal scrumhalf.


Saturday Star

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