AB de Villiers, arguably one of the greatest batsmen of the 21st century, is a household name amongst cricket fans across the globe. His dextrous batting, unbelievable power-hitting, extraordinary ability to send the ball into the stands and innovation of fresh shots has made him stand in a completely different league of supremely talented batsmen.
Many fans know about De Villiers’ outstanding career, but there are a lot of who aren’t aware of the fact when the exceptional batsman was 20 years old, he was offered a playing role for Carrickfergus Cricket, a club based out of Ireland.
The man behind all this was Roger Bell, who convinced the Irish club to sign a young South African batsman who he had seen scoring 143 against an England team in the U-19s. Being on his first overseas assignment, the experience of playing for the Irish club would teach De Villiers invaluable lessons in responsibility and self-dependence.
Calling back on his time in Ireland, De Villiers told Cricbuzz: “I was quite nervous and scared of being so far away from home. This was the first time I was planning to stay overseas for longer than a month. It was pretty tough to get used to being on my own, many miles away from home.”
Although there was some uncertainty regarding De Villiers’ availability for the first game but in the end, he was elected in the playing eleven and guess what the young Proteas player ended up scoring an 82-ball 85.
It was undoubtedly a special inning as it was played on a tough surface. After his incredible knock, De Villiers met his roommate during the duration of his stay in Ireland, Barry Cooper, for the first time. Cooper recalled the moment and said, “The first time I met him was literally when he walked out to bat. It was like, ‘OK, hi. How are you doing? I’m Barry’. It was a stinker of a wicket, wet, doing a fair bit, and slow going.”
“I know you’ve probably never played on a wicket like this in your life. I know you’re going to want to impress. But you’re just not going to be able to play the shots that you’re used to playing. Let’s just see how we go here.” Cooper added.
Cooper also recalled the abilities in De Villiers when he saw him at that time. Cooper revealed that he cautioned ABD to play safe against Ijaz Ahmed Jr as he was a quality off-spinner. However, De Villiers took that as a challenge and showed what he would be in the coming years.
“He came on with his off-spin, and I said to AB, this guy is going to be near impossible to getaway. It’s a tough wicket, and he’s not going to bowl any bad balls. We’ll nurdle him, and if we can get 20 off his 10 we’ll worry about the rest later’. AB obviously took that as a bit of a challenge, and in his first, over skipped down the wicket and stuck him back over his head for six. Twice. That was the first time I remember thinking to myself: this boy’s a bit special.”
Cooper further added that De Villiers was playing proper cricketing shots and displaying his extraordinary ability, which later on made him a world-class cricketer.
“The thing is that he was never slogging. It never looked like he was taking a risk, even when he came down the wicket and hit a six, you know. It wasn’t how most people come down the wicket and hit a six.”
After his excellent show in the Irish league, De Villiers got his first taste of international cricket at the senior level when he was called up to play for the South Africa A team to play against Zimbabwe. His teammate Ally McCalmont narrated the events on the night when AB received the call from the selectors.
“We were sitting in his living room at Barry’s when the phone rang. It was passed to AB, and he took the call calmly, not saying much for around 10 or 15 minutes, then politely said ‘thank you’ and hung up. He had gone pale. Naturally, we asked what it was about. He explained it was South Africa ‘A’ selectors and that he’d been picked to represent them for the first time, in Zimbabwe,” said McCalmont.
“He said, ‘What am I going to do?’ We didn’t understand what the issue was. ‘I have a contract with Carrickfergus’. Both me and Barry started laughing, but he was deadly serious. The fact that he even for a second thought that he could turn down South Africa ‘A’ out of loyalty to this small club he’d only just joined spoke volumes. It goes without saying that his mind was set straight almost immediately when we talked it through,” McCalmont added.
A decade and a half later, looking back at his time in Ireland, De Villiers said: “It took me some time but by that stage, I really just felt settled in.”
“I felt like I was part of the club and that I had my own special place in Carrick. Once you get that feeling in any set-up, you can then just focus on being yourself and performing to your full potential. It was the perfect way to sign off,” added De Villiers.
The genius South African cricketer has played 114 Tests, 228 ODIs, and 78 T20Is, in which he has accumulated 8765, 9577, 1672 runs, respectively. ‘Mr 360’ has 47 international hundreds and 109 half-centuries to his name.