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South Africa pace bowler Dale Steyn has admitted that the country are unlikely to produce another player quite like AB de Villiers.
De Villiers stunned the cricketing world when he announced his retirement from international cricket last week.
Having played alongside De Villiers for years, Steyn acknowledged that the Proteas have been dealt a major blow.
“It (cricket) has lost the best,” Steyn told ESPNcricinfo. “You can see guys playing international cricket and you think they are good enough, but they are not quite there yet. Then you get guys that are good. Then you get guys that are excellent. And then you get AB de Villiers.”
When asked if bowlers all over the world will be relieved that De Villiers has ended his international career, Steyn said: “As a matter of fact, there will be quite a bit of disappointment that he won’t be playing anymore.
“If you ask any bowler, he would want to be challenged against guys like AB. There is a sense of relief, I guess, for international teams because they feel there is one less player [to deal with]. AB is a mountain of a player. In the recent series against Australia, they spoke about it.
“I have always felt good playing against the best, so when you see one of the best players drop out of international cricket, it is a sad day, because the point of challenging yourself against the best is gone. From [another] side, it is a relief because a lot of bowlers will go: ‘I’m not going to have as many sleepless nights’.”
Steyn also revealed that De Villiers had three different gears when batting in the nets and added that it could be very frustrating at times when bowling to the 34-year-old.
“You could nick him off ten times in the nets, it didn’t count for s**t,” he said. “AB had three different types of gears while playing in the nets. Sometimes he would watch it so closely that he would defend the ball completely under his eyes.
“I wish you could see me as I am standing now to imitate what he would do: the ball would basically rest at his feet and he would pick it up and give it back to you. That is quite annoying because as a fast bowler you want to rattle the batsman. This guy has complete control that he can defend the ball coming at 145kph and the ball would rest at his feet. That is a unique talent. That just doesn’t happen. Nobody in the world that I have bowled to can do that.
“Then there is the second gear that he turns to where he starts to really get into his movements, starts to walk around a lot more. He will stand on middle, and as you release the ball, he is standing two feet outside of off; he will be standing on off stump, and as you release the ball, he is standing one foot outside leg stump and lapping you.
“Then he gets into the third gear, where he decides to concentrate on clearing the ropes. He will literally hit every ball in the sweet spot. He has the ability to make you feel completely helpless.
“It is almost easier playing him in a match because if he does get out, he is actually out. In nets, even if he gets out he is still there for more time and he is going to smash you. It is torture.”
Steyn added that De Villiers helped his blossom into a better player and feels that South Africa would have never reached the summit of the rankings in all three formats without the Pretoria native.
“His excellence rubs off on other people. When you are in the company of greatness, there is only one thing to do: to raise your game,” Steyn said. “I actually sent him a message yesterday and said to him: I don’t think I would be half as good as people think I am if it wasn’t for him being in the team. Without him even knowing, he made more than half the players in our team excellent players.
“One of my highlights of being a Proteas player is that at one stage we were the No. 1 team across all formats. That was under Gary Kirsten as coach, but I can guarantee that team wouldn’t have achieved such great heights without great players like AB. That was the ability of AB – to be able to raise everyone’s game with incredible intensity. That is another unique skill he has.”
Upon being asked to sum up De Villiers as a person, Steyn said: “It would be unfair of me to tell you what kind of a person AB de Villiers is off the field because he keeps that private. He is a wonderful man. He is game for anything, absolutely anything.”