AB de Villiers' retirement is a crying shame and ultimately a bombshell for the game

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Swashbuckling: AB de Villiers in full flight.

As one Tweeter emphatically and rather impressively put it, ‘With AB now gone, Cricket will now start with a C’. It was a spot-on assessment.

The explosive batsman was not just ahead of the game in terms of his initials, he was among the chief pioneers of big-hitting, fast-scoring and crowd-pleasing knocks, in such a way that it took T20 and ODI formats a while to keep up initially.

Cricket is now a poorer place for his retirement. If only Cricket South Africa could have refused AB de Villiers‘ resignation from the international game.

Ultimately, it is a bombshell, disappointing and perhaps unexpected given last August, less than a year ago, he had recommitted himself to playing in all formats for his country.

The toil of 14 years at the top-level of a game which is as mentally draining as it is physically, fatigued De Villiers and was his dominant reason for ending his Proteas career, though he has insisted he did not make the decision to give him more time for lucrative T20 paths.

Playing for a nation in which board interference and controversy is never far away from the surface, could be another factor. Being a South African international cricketer has never been as easy as turning out for England, Australia or indeed India – because despite the fanatic fanfare in the subcontinent – players are well looked after and not dragged through the politics above them.

The 34-year-old, who captained his country to the semi-finals at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup as the Proteas went down to New Zealand, made reference in his 2016 book that the powers to be selected Vernon Philander over Kyle Abbott for that match to just fill a race quota.

He leaves the game ranked as the number two batsman in ODIs and quite rightly has a claim to being one of the greats of the format, given that he is the only batsman to have played 50-plus ODI innings and maintained both a 50-plus average and 100-plus strike rate. It’s a crying shame a record like that won’t have any silverware to go with it.

It is an anti-climax if ever there was one for him not to fulfill that World Cup promise he made himself, and that to coming from a man who in January of this year declared he was in the best form of his life.

Those words were no shot in the arm. He went onto score more Test runs (211) than anyone else during South Africa’s 2-1 series win over India, and was a star turn, averaging 71.17 from eight innings, as the Proteas romped to a 3-1 success over Australia in a series remembered for the ball-tampering scandal. That will stand as the second-best ever finish to a Test career, following Brian Lara’s 89.60 average in his last series against Pakistan in 2006.

In this year’s edition of the IPL – scores of 90*, 72, 69 and 68 did not make his form as impressive as his vintage 2016 season in which he plundered 687 runs – but he still, despite a disappointing campaign for Royal Challengers Bangalore, looked a cut above most.

Tiredness, as he put it, for a cricketer that is in a strong enough financial position and a household name commercially to manage his schedule down to the most finite details, seems a bit of a cop out. That said, who is anyone to question De Villiers and a man who has 20,014 international runs in the bank?

To put those run-scoring feats into context, since De Villiers’ Proteas and Test debut against England at Port Elizabeth in December 2004, only Kumar Sangakkara (21,437) scored more international runs between then and now.

De Villiers deserves respect for the way in which he has fronted up and been brutally honest about how he felt he had no more in the tank to combine all his commitments. In a sense, he has shown the game immense gratitude for doing that.

His international cricket was indeed closer to the backend than the start, still there is a great degree of sadness and a feeling of an end of an era now. Fortunately, we will still get the chance to watch a player – who almost single-handedly created 360° degree shots around the wicket – in franchise-based cricket.

But, for now, let’s not look too far ahead and just remember the good times. Indeed, there’s no better time to re-YouTube the fastest ODI hundred of all time, off 31 balls, he scored against West Indies in Johannesburg in 2015.

It has been some innings, AB.

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Cook v Amir among the key England v Pakistan battles ahead of first Lord's Test

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The Test summer of cricket is set to get underway on Thursday at Lord’s as England host Pakistan in the first match of a two-Test series.

After a winter of discontent in for the Three Lions, which saw Test series defeats against Australia and New Zealand, Joe Root’s men will be desperate to start on the front foot.

For Pakistan, they begin the north London contest off the back of a morale-boosting five-wicket victory over Ireland at Malahide in Dublin last week.

The Men in Green are by no means just the pre-curtain raiser to the five-match contest to come against India later this summer.

Here, we look at three potentially key on-the-field battles at the Home of Cricket.

ALASTAIR COOK V MOHAMMAD AMIR

It is a defining summer for England’s all-time leading run-scorer in Test cricket following his winter of struggle, which saw him dismissed for under 20 in 10 out of 13 innings. But for his 244 not out against Australia on a flat track at Melbourne, the 33-year-old veteran opener would have averaged nowhere near 47 during the Ashes and finished at a rate of 5.75 against the Black Caps. When he strides out at the Home of Cricket to bat, it will be his 153rd consecutive Test – a staggering feat for an opener – equalling that of the legendary Allan Border. In a sense, Cook has nothing to prove given the fact he has 12,000 runs in the bank but failure to perform consistently and score big this summer will just continue the questions about his future.

The Essex man has earned the right to make his own call on when he decides to call it a day – he almost did just that during the Ashes – but it certainly isn’t getting any easier. Indeed, the record Sachin Tendulkar holds of 15,921 runs – a figure Cook was expected to eclipse – looks a long, long way away now. Having said that, and having had 12 different opening partners since Andrew Strauss’ retirement back in 2011, he will enjoy the fact Mark Stoneman – who is also under-pressure – will be there to open alongside him for some form of consistency.

The prospect of facing Amir – a man who has been passed fit to play in his third Lord’s Test – is perhaps not a comfortable proposition. Cook, when in-form, gets round his frail tendency outside off-stump by leaving well but his lack of footwork and that once famed defence looked sluggish against the likes of fellow left-armers Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult over the winter.

Having looked like he was bowling at good lick during Dublin, if Amir can reach the high 80s and then some he could get Cook out early with a moving ball and put the hosts’ batting line-up under pressure. Two years ago, during Pakistan’s first Test win at Lord’s en-route to a 2-2 series draw, Amir found a way through Cook’s defences in the first innings – bowling him for 81. He also dismissed him after Cook reached his century in Manchester and if you go further back, to the 2010 series, Amir had Cook three times. If you factor in the good form of Mohammad Abbas, that should help Amir too.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Alastair Cook of England poses for a portrait at Lord's Cricket Ground on May 22, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Ready for battle: Cook stern-faced ahead of Pakistan Test.


JOE ROOT V SARFRAZ AHMED

Like Cook, this is a defining summer for Root and his captaincy. Failure to turn anyone of his last nine fifties into 100s is a genuine problem but his batting will come good and big scores are around the corner. Batting at No.3 should be a huge factor. Six defeats in seven Tests during the winter as captain was not just down to the Yorkshireman (there were plenty of other factors), but in any sense, is a stain on his record. With an eye to the 2019 Ashes, this is a crucial juncture in the 27-year-old’s career and at least he can kick-start the summer with the fresh impetus of the returning Jos Buttler and young spinner Dominic Bess.

He will be hoping positive selections, with the help of new national selector Ed Smith, can give England greater cutting edge. Root has room to grow as captain and ultimately a leader. There were times over the winter where he looked short of ideas, and although there were circumstances out of his control like the Ben Stokes saga, he needs to seize his chance to put his stamp on this team. He is as committed as anyone to the England cause and has many likeable characteristics, so England fans will be hoping they are soon mirrored in his side.

For Sarfraz, captaining a Pakistan side that are as unpredictable as ever is no mean task. Matches are never dull involving his team, indeed, the Men in Green have not drawn a Test in their past 20 matches. However, the 31-year-old will actually feel like he has a good chance to upstage Root.

To captain Pakistan in all three-forms, taking over from the golden era Misbah left behind and still contribute efficiently as a middle-order batsman (averaging over 40 as skipper since taking the reins in May 2017), as well as keep wicket, has kept his plate full. Unlike Root, Sarfraz is a more natural captain and has had the benefit of more experience, coupled with the fact he will always be the darling of his country’s cricketing history having guided Pakistan to victory over India in the 2016 ICC Champions Trophy final. It will be fascinating to see how both captains approach this.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 23: England captain Joe Root and Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed hold the NatWest series trophy at Lord's Cricket Ground on May 23, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Captains are braced for action: Joe Root and Sarfraz Ahmed.

JAMES ANDERSON V AZHAR ALI

What left is there to say about 35-year-old Anderson? With 531 Test wickets to his name, he is still England’s key performer and will be buoyed by the fact partner in crime Stuart Broad looks to be getting back to his best after going back to basics. Anderson toiled hard over the winter, but well, and there’s every reason to suggest he should fill his boots against Pakistan and India, given they could struggle in alien conditions early on.

Last summer, he claimed 39 wickets at 14 apiece – and that’s not out of reach again for the man who is fifth in the all-time wicket-taking charts and is closing in on Glenn McGrath in fourth to become the most decorated seamer, in terms of wickets, of all time. It is well documented what the Lancastrian brings to this attack: swing, seam and deception making him a nightmare for batsmen the world-over for the past 15 years. The fact his body is still holding up is good news for England and he believes he can go on for another two years. Expect another big summer of him, with Azhar being just one of the batsman tasked with keeping him out.

The experienced Lahore native struggled against Ireland – and was undone by the seam of Boyd Ranking an Tim Murtagh – mustering just six runs in two innings. Ali will perhaps feel relieved that he has got those low scores out of the way and indeed bounced back with a steady knock of 73 in the tour match against Leicestershire. For a team lacking the batting experience and clout of old, this is a chance for Ali to step up to the plate, along with Babar Azam, and prove they are heir to the thrones of Misbah and Younis Khan.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 23: James Anderson and Stuart Broad of England walk through the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground on May 23, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Key men: James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

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No World Cup for South Africa batting star AB de Villiers as he retires from international cricket

Sudhir Gupta 23/05/2018
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De Villiers has announced retirement from international cricket.

South African batting legend AB de Villiers has announced his immediate retirement from international cricket just days after completing his IPL assignment with Royal Challengers Bangalore.

De Villiers returned to Test cricket earlier in the year after giving the format a skip for two seasons and starred in series wins over India and Australia. That, it seems, will be it at the highest level for De Villiers who took to social media on Wednesday to announce his retirement.

“I have decided to retire from all international cricket with immediate effect,” De Villiers said in the video. “After 114 Test matches, 228 ODIs and 78 T20 internationals, it is time for others to take over. I have had my turn, and to be honest, I am tired.

“This is a tough decision, I have thought long and hard about it and I’d like to retire while still playing decent cricket. After the fantastic series wins against India and Australia, now feels like the right time to step aside.

“It would not be right for me to pick and choose where, when and in what format I play for the Proteas. For me, in the green and gold, it must be everything or nothing.”

The decision means De Villiers, who had earlier been targeting glory at the 2019 World Cup, will not be participating in the tournament in England.

South Africa had been fretting over De Villiers’ drive for a long time as he had taken multiple breaks from national duty over the past few seasons.

De Villiers retires as one of the finest all-formats batsmen of all time. His 8,765 runs in Tests and 9,577 runs in ODIs have been accumulated using a breathtaking 360 degree technique.

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