Ashleigh Barty’s retirement in March when she was women’s tennis No. 1 and just 25 years old is a “weird one to explain,” South African cricket legend AB de Villiers has told AFP in an interview before they team up for a golf event.
Barty’s relatively short career contrasts with that of the 38-year-old de Villiers, who, after well over a decade at the top, only retired from all formats of international cricket in 2018 and from the game entirely last year.
De Villiers first met avid cricket fan Barty when he was playing in Australia’s Big Bash League in 2019 and they will meet again when they team up in the inaugural Icons Series golf event in Jersey City from June 30 to July 1.
A Freddie Couples-captained Team USA will compete against a Rest of the World team – skippered by ‘The Big Easy’ Ernie Els, one of de Villier’s sporting idols – with 14 sporting stars in each line-up. While Barty and keen golfer de Villiers are in the Rest of the World Team, swimming legend Michael Phelps and boxing great Oscar de la Hoya are among those in Team USA.
Three-time Grand Slam winner Barty – who de Villiers describes as having become a friend – has already taken one break from tennis, playing cricket instead for Brisbane Heat during the 2015-16 Women’s Big Bash.
But this time around, the exit appears to be final.
“It is a weird one to explain,” de Villiers told AFP in a phone interview.
“I think the best answer is that every person has their own way of manoeuvring through their career, some as long as possible. The whole world respects her decision. I would like to think stepping away can be a relief but it is an incredible age to retire at.”
De Villiers was one of those rare birds who averaged over 50 in both Test and one-day international formats. He says he has not had second thoughts since bringing down the curtain on his stellar career which saw him captain South Africa in all three formats.
“I feel relief sitting here,” he said.
“I am feeling quite happy I made the right decision even if I miss the game and will be forever grateful to the sport. But similar to Ash there is a peace of mind where I am at. I am really happy to look back on my career with fond memories. There are no regrets. Yes, I made mistakes but no regrets.”
De Villiers – variously known as ‘Mr 360’ for his strokeplay and ‘Superman’ for his astonishingly agile fielding – says he was fortunate not to have had too many bad runs with the bat during his career. However, he sympathises with his close friend, Indian superstar Virat Kohli, who he played with at Indian Premier League franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore.
‘King Kohli’ had been going through a rough patch including two successive golden ducks before he hit 58 on Saturday. He has also failed to score a century in over 100 matches in all formats.
“As a batsman you are only one or two bad knocks away from bad form,” said de Villiers. “If it keeps coming at you it is difficult to bounce back from it.”
De Villiers says he has not been in touch with Kohli, but says the struggle becomes largely one of the mind. “I cannot put a percentage to it but it is the mind and power of the mind which is the main battle,” he said.
“You do not become a bad player overnight. Virat would know it and I know it. I think it’s the way you think and set your mind. You need a clear mind and fresh energy whenever you play and then you can find a way out of a hole.”
While de Villiers made plenty of money from the T20 format he is a staunch defender of the Test game. In 114 Tests between 2004 and 2018, he piled up 8,765 runs for South Africa, averaging just over 50.
“Test cricket is my No. 1 format,” he said.
“I think most players feel that way. There is nothing more rewarding than standing out there for five days with your team. It is the ultimate challenge. I do not know why anyone would say they do not want that challenge in the hardest of formats.
“I will stop watching cricket if Test cricket were to be no more.”