AB de Villiers has revealed that he urged current South Africa captain Faf du Plessis not to take up a second stint in county cricket after du Plessis’ Kolpak contract with Lancashire expired in 2010.
In an interview with Indian YouTube channel Breakfast with Champions, de Villiers explained how he told du Plessis that he was “pretty close” to national selection at the time he was considering taking up a second deal in England.
“There was a moment when he was thinking of signing for one of the English counties,” de Villiers said. “He did call me up, and said what do I think about it? I said listen, not a long time from now there will be a few retirements, a few guys will step down, and you’re pretty close. And the coaches and the team are talking about you, so just hang in a little bit longer. And finally the breakthrough came. I’m not taking credit for that, but we did have that conversation. And I’m very happy I was straight up with him.”
De Villiers and du Plessis had been childhood rivals, playing for different primary schools, but when they both attended Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool – also known as ‘Affies’ – in Pretoria as teenagers they became team-mates and friends. A prodigious talent, de Villiers made his Test debut against England in December 2004, before his 21st birthday. Du Plessis’ call-up would only come almost seven years later, against India in 2011, after he had topped the domestic one-day run-charts.
“He waited a bit longer,” de Villiers said of du Plessis. “It happened quite quickly for me. A couple of doors opened up, and I put my hand up at the right time. The path he walked was a different one, but it set him up perfectly for international cricket. I think he was mentally in a great space when he finally made his debut.”
De Villiers also opened up on his 2018 retirement, which came as a shock to many South African fans – especially as the World Cup was only a year away. De Villiers said that he wanted to play in the World Cup, but he cited a desire to spend more time with his family and a general weariness with international competition as reasons for his decision. He also said that he “felt cornered” by expectation and criticism, and hinted at other, “deeper reasons” for his departure.
“I was keen to play in the World Cup, but I left, I retired,” he said. “So it was a very sensitive situation. For the last three years of my career, I was labelled as a guy who is picking and choosing when I was playing and when not. So I got quite a lot of criticism from back home, which also played a role in me retiring. And it was difficult for me to then go ‘hey, but I’ll still play the World Cup’. It’s that picking and choosing thing again, and it’s quite arrogant to do something like that. But as they say, you can’t have your bread buttered on both sides.
“I felt cornered. It’s always been about the team, it’s never been about myself. But I found myself in a position where I had to make a decision where it’s going to look like I’m just thinking about myself.
“There’s a lot of reasons I had to move on. Family’s definitely a big part of it. And the longevity of my career, I played for 15 years and I was just tired of the whole international scene. It’s quite busy. Very stressful. And the mental game, the doubts you have as a person and as a player, it wears you down. And being captain of the Proteas for a long time also took its toll. And then there are a few deeper issues that might have to be discussed when I’m 50, one day.
“There’s a part of me that will always miss it. Everything that goes with it. I wish I could have pushed on longer, but it was time. I had a great run. I had so much fun, I really did, and more dreams came true than I could ever imagine. And there was lots of heartbreaks as well along the way, and that’s the great ride that we all go through.”