A splendid international career that spanned 14 years drew to close on Wednesday 23 May, when AB de Villiers announced his retirement, simply saying: “I have had my turn and, to be honest, I am tired.”
De Villiers has for long expressed a desire to win an ICC Cricket World Cup with South Africa, but though this decision marks an end to that possibility, the legend still set alight cricket’s biggest stage during the three editions he was part of in 2007, 2011 and 2015.
Here we look at some memorable knocks and how he’s fared at the Cricket World Cups.
146 v Windies, ICC CWC 2007
Having made his ODI debut in February 2005, it took de Villiers almost two years to bring up his maiden century in the format – and there was no better stage to do that than a World Cup. Brian Lara, the Windies captain, asked South Africa to bat, and de Villiers walked out with Graeme Smith. Smith fell cheaply for 7, but de Villiers was unstoppable. He smashed a 130-ball 146, even as Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher slammed half-centuries at the other end. By the time de Villiers was done, he had powered 12 fours and five sixes.
South Africa posted an imposing 356/4 – a total well out of reach for the Windies, who fell 67 short.
107* v Windies, ICC CWC 2011
Four years later, it was once again the Windies at the receiving end. At the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi, Windies were bundled out for 222, with Imran Tahir returning 4/41. But if the target seemed comfortable, South Africa had another think coming.
They lost Hashim Amla and Kallis within the first five overs, and they were reduced to 20/2. An ailing Smith remained in the middle, struggling to score quickly. So de Villiers, coming in at No.4, knuckled down and the two anchored the chase.
They had added 119 runs for third wicket when Smith fell, having scored a 78-ball 45. It was then that de Villiers shifted gears, having ambled along at a run-a-ball. With JP Duminy, who made an unbeaten 42, keeping pace, the chase was completed with 43 balls to spare.
De Villiers’s 107* off 105 balls displayed his versatility – he could score at preposterous rates, but he could just as easily anchor a chase. Another Player of the Match award was bagged.
162* v Windies, ICC CWC 2015
Facing Windies at the World Cup seemed to bring out the best in de Villiers, and the 2015 edition in Australia and New Zealand was no different. And this one may have been the fiercest of the lot.
Before de Villiers walked in to bat at No.5, Amla and Faf du Plessis had already hit half-centuries to lift South Africa to 146/3. De Villiers had Riley Rousseau for company, and they shared a century stand of 134 for the fourth wicket.
Rousseau fell after scoring 61 off just 39, but de Villiers kept going. From 280/4, he powered South Africa to a mammoth 408/5 with an unbeaten 162 off just 66 balls.
With that knock, he holds the record for the fastest ODI 150, which he brought up in just 64 balls. He made almost 72% of the runs through boundaries. His blistering knock, which he made at a strike rate of 245.45, featured 17 fours and eight sixes.
South Africa won the match by a massive 257 runs.
52 v India, ICC CWC 2011
When Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar were going great guns, putting up an opening stand of 142 in 17.4 overs, South Africa’s big aim was to keep the total at a manageable number. But, from 267/1 in the 40th over, the hosts crumbled to the pace of Dale Steyn, being bowled out in Nagpur for 296.
On a tricky surface, that was still a challenging total. Amla and Kallis made half-centuries, but the chase needed the spark of de Villiers to fire it up. He struck 52 in 39 balls, which included six fours and a six, to take the chase up another gear.
He didn’t stick around till the end, falling in the 41st over with the score on 223/4, but had done his bit before cameos from the lower order took South Africa over the line for a close three-wicket win with two balls remaining.
65* v New Zealand, ICC CWC 2015
Unlike the other knocks that resulted in wins, his 65* in the CWC 2015 semi-final came in a match de Villiers called his “greatest disappointment”.
Going into the match, he was in superlative form. Entering the tournament as the top-ranked ODI side, South Africa were also one of the favourites and the team was high on belief.
Batting first against New Zealand, South Africa posted 281/5 from 43 overs in a rain-affected match. De Villiers was on 65* off 45 balls, with eight fours and a six, giving the innings a final push.
Chasing a revised total of 289, New Zealand needed five from the last two deliveries. Grant Elliott crushed the South African dream by hitting the penultimate ball of the match for a six, and AB’s men were left in tears.
In his autobiography, de Villiers blamed the defeat on their failure to take "five clear opportunities ... three possible run-outs and two catches."
As it turns out, it was his last outing in a World Cup. He finished with the highest average in the World Cup: 63.53 in 23 matches, making 1207 runs. Behind him is Sir Viv Richards, who made 1013 runs from 23 matches, averaging 63.31.