What’s in a name?

A B de Villiers: great name.  Smacks, to us Brits, of something powerfully and maybe romantically other, something distinctive, emphatic and emphatically South African – whatever that means.  But is it simply that de that’s effecting a statement somewhere between the territorial and the unapologetically forward? Why is that name working in the way it does?

Blimey.  Possibly dangerous ground.  Not going anywhere near the complex/unfortunate/shamefully traumatic political stuff.  Just hold with that question about what it is that trammels up the feeling, the expectation, the response to that name.

This may be ridiculous.  How we receive a human’s label obviously depends upon a zillion cultural mores (or lesses) and how that name now conjures with us is contingent upon what we know about the bearer of that flag of peace, war, convenience, whatever.  In this case we’re plainly talking ’bout a prodigiously talented sportsman who happens to cart those two words (one and a bit?) round on the back of his cricket shirt(s). So it’s simple – right?

It’s simple in that we are denied the possibility for doubt or equivocation, with de Villiers.  He is rare, he is typically majestic – or that’s the picture over the years.  Whether you’re from Transvaal or Tranmere you get that he’s a bona fide worldie.

This becomes interesting (to me) because of recent events – and I’m not just thinking the withdrawal from upcoming Tests, although clearly this has been the trigger.  The notion that the impregnable de Villiers brand – speaking incontrovertibly of expressive, somehow lusty brilliance – flirts now just a little with human frailties, with ‘management’, with (if not indecision) then with compromise, feels frankly a little de-flating.  (Soz.)

Granted some will argue that A B de Villiers has chosen to go a certain route – namely to play IPL, miss a lot of international cricket, then target a return against India and Australia.  Granted also there are complications beyond his control re- an elbow injury demanding surgery; plus that great unknowable around motivation appears to be increasingly relevant.

But I am sensing more fogginess than clarity, more difficulty than direction .  So where is de Villiers at… and what’s occurring around his imprint, his quality of presence, his reputation?

In interview with ESPNcricinfo yesterday, the theme of essential ‘time away’ loomed so large as to make some of us a little concerned – for a couple of reasons.

A) because it’s disconcerting to see a magnificent athlete of the alpha-male variety looking just a little lost.

B) because (selfishly) I’d rather all the best players committed to all the Tests they can.

As an innocent and pret-ty unbiased bystander, one interpretation of current de Villierdom might reasonably be that he’s just finding that work/life/family life balance thing tough to manage because, largely, he has simply, maybe temporarily, stopped enjoying playing.  Which is a proper shame: which also smacks of some degree of loss, or retreat?

It may be reckless to throw too many assumptions at this. This particular guy – every particular guy, or gal – has every right to dip out, now and then, to take stock, to replenish.  Fair play, de Villiers has been open if not fulsome on that.

The upshot or fallout from the interview is

A)  We may not know exactly why he’s breaking from series A or B but we are feeling his need.

B)  We can’t know what’s really, really in his mind – maybe he doesn’t?

The result (or one of them) is indulgence of this sort – cod psychology, if you will – and/or extrapolations around themes: patriotism(!), frailty(?), great or despicable career management, falls from grace.  Oh and worry about the impact on Test Cricket.

Our own need to speculate is inevitable, given de Villier’s profile and his brilliance and the suspicion that there is a story there: whether we treat that story respectfully or gather it up into those fears around the threats to Test Cricket is another matter.

I’ll stop just short of that.  I’ll mention in passing the concern I have that the adrenalin-pull and financial clout of white ball cricket is a kind of drain, as well as an Absolute Blast – certainly when viewed from the traditionalists’ prism.  Whilst I really don’t consider myself as being from that wing of the game, I do absolutely regret both that energy-sapping schedules and players opting for short rather than longer form cricket may be undermining Tests.

Hype is arguably of its nature draining (I imagine) – perhaps particularly when expectation is so heavily loaded upon you, oh starry individual.  If you smash the fastest century ever (say) and generally perform to swashbucklingly boomtastic levels then not only are you riding an ecstatic wave but you are risking humiliating wipe-out. I think maybe I am momentarily fascinated (but it will pass) by the idea that the hike into T20 form and format mitigates towards exhilaration and exhaustion.  A hypothesis that feels kinda seductive… but sounds a moment later like utter cobblers.

A B de Villiers is a cricket titan; an icon, a giant, a genius, a worldie.  He has both that sumptuous, natural sportsman thing going on and the intellectual/technical wherewithal back up the gift.

Go find a youtube training vid and you’ll likely find him explaining his method, involving engaging the core by hitting late, under the eyes, within the imaginary box he visualises as an extension of his body.  It’s as though he’s allowing the ball entry into his system, his aura, before some wonderful coiled reflex propels it with both violence and control to the glorious horizon.

This way of things seems to embody not so much his hitting strategy as his personal confidence.  Waiting (when possible) rather than reaching – and then striking with formidable power.  It’s a method full of belief.

The name A B de Villiers may be cursed I guess, by South Africans who think they are more patriotic than him.  Who think he’s either gone soft or gotten greedy.  Who wheel out theories over bat contracts or bad karma.

Strikes me we don’t know if there’s a cynical plan in place here or simply that slightly heart-string-tugging plea for a break.  Much of the rest is baggage – inevitable, surely given The Age and the extraordinary quality of the talent.  He’s a Big Name Player in a luridly curious world.

I cannot be clear (and therefore am not making the case) that de Villiers has sold his soul to some vulgar idol; after all, he says he aims to battle for a Test place in a year or so’s time.  I am also unsure if I have the right to feel disappointed – but I do.

Presumably that’s because I feel protective of Test Cricket and I worry a bit about who else might go opting out?  Because we can’t afford to lose too many de Villiers, eh?

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