HT Brunch cover story: Locked down but not out with AB de Villiers
Lockdown may have been tough for all, but just how much tougher has it been for sportspeople, who thrive on the outdoors, to find themselves locked in to protect themselves and the rest of humankind? When we ask this question to AB de Villiers, we discover that however difficult the situation, the human spirit unfailingly invents ways to overcome all odds.
“I’ve been at home in Pretoria with my wife and two young sons,” the 35-year-old former SA cricket captain tells us from South Africa. “It has obviously been a strange time in many ways and we have been careful, but we have also enjoyed spending time together in a way that daily life previously made impossible.”
There’s a spark of optimism in what AB is saying. “The positives are certainly the time spent with family. We [wife Danielle Swart and I] have literally been able to watch our sons growing up, and that has been fantastic.”
Willy-nilly, a chat with a sportsman always veers towards fitness, and keeping fit while staying indoors during a pandemic has been even more essential. “We are fortunate to have a small gym at home, which has helped immensely,” says AB. “I have also been teaching my boys [John Richards, aged 5, and Abraham, aged 2] how to play golf using the small putting green in a garden and a net, which I managed to construct. The key to keeping fit and eating well is good habits, and we have managed to keep those going.”
As the return of cricket begins to loom on the horizon, AB presents a reality check. What will stadiums without spectators be like? And how will you feel as a player?
“Like anybody else, we will have to accept the realities of the situation and get on with the challenge of providing entertainment,” says AB. “Of course, we would prefer to be playing in front of capacity crowds, but in this time, safety is paramount. If it turns out that we do have to play in empty stadiums, we will embrace the challenge. All any of us can do is to follow the advice of our governments and scientists.”
Different people have taken to different things to deal with being locked down. Interestingly, AB de Villiers says he has been writing. His 2016 book AB: The Autobiography presented a peek into a passion unusual for a hard-hitting batsman best known for his ability to drive a ball 360 degrees on a cricketing field. But the time the lockdown provided, AB says, has certainly given his writing a leg up.
“Writing takes time, and time is not always available in the normal world,” says AB. “During lockdown, people suddenly had time to reflect and so also to write, and I have tried to put some thoughts down on paper. I am by no means a novelist, but the mere act of writing helps me get things straight in my mind. At one stage, I even wrote a song for my wife, Danielle.”
The romantic side of AB cannot be ignored; Indian fans may recall that the cricketer proposed to his now wife at the Taj Mahal in 2012.
A writer must be a reader, we put forth. What are the kinds of books that catch your fancy? “Jeffrey Archer has been one of my favourite authors for many years, because he is so skilled at telling a story, making you want to turn the page,” says AB. “In the past few weeks, I have also found a beautifully-animated short book called The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackery. It’s very well done. “Writing,” AB confesses, “Helps me make sense of all the thoughts running through my mind. What can feel confusing often seems clearer on paper.”
AB de Villiers is part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, and plays alongside Indian captain Virat Kohli. In earlier interviews, he has called Bengaluru “his home city”, a comment that inspired numerous memes.
“India is one of the most extraordinary countries in the world,” he tells us. “Like any nation, it faces many challenges. But in my experience, it is set apart by the energy and enthusiasm of the people. This is evident everywhere… on the street, in the shops, in the stadiums, on almost every expression… it’s a very special place.”
Now that he knows India so well, we must ask: are his friends back home who come from Indian-origin families in South Africa different, or similar to his Indian friends who live in India?
“It would be wrong to generalise, but there are obviously some similarities between Indians in India and South Africans of Indian origin,” says AB. “That said, South Africa is special because it is a country that celebrates diversity; it doesn’t’ matter where any of us may have originated from… we can all unite under the same flag.”
We deliver the final question, expecting a favourite AB shot for an answer, and we are not disappointed: If we were to ask you to give your fans a short message that’d help the world keep positive through the challenges this pandemic has brought with it, what would it be?
“I think Queen Elizabeth II hit the nail on the head when she told the people of Britain and the Commonwealth that ‘we will meet again,’” says AB de Villiers, as he signs off. “We will get through this pandemic. Lives will be lost and many will suffer, sadly, and we will mourn, but we will get through this pandemic and all of us, we will meet again.”
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From HT Brunch, August 30, 2020
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