The Brisbane Heat have pulled off a recruitment coup by securing the signature of South African legend AB de Villiers for the second half of this summer’s KFC BBL tournament.
It marks one of the biggest signings in the nine-year history of the tournament after the Heat won the race for the 35-year-old batting genius. He will replace the marquee void left by New Zealand great Brendon McCullum who retired from the T20 circuit earlier this year.
De Villiers played 420 matches of international cricket during a career that spanned more than 13 years, scoring more than 20,000 runs and 47 centuries, before calling time on his Proteas career shortly after the infamous Test series against Australia in 2018.
The former South Africa skipper has shown no signs of slowing down in retirement by lighting up T20 competitions this year in India (442 runs at an average of 44.2 and a strike rate of 154 in the IPL) and England (348 runs at an average of 69.6 and a strike rate of 182.19 in the T20 Blast), making him the highest runscorer in the format in 2019.
Reports emerged in April suggesting de Villiers had his sights set on joining Australia’s T20 competition, but seemingly cooled on the idea just weeks later.
However, the lure of playing at the Gabba - often spruiked by McCullum as the best T20 wicket in the world - and the attraction of joining a team whose instincts are to take the game head-on, led to a change of mind for the three-time one-day international ICC Player of the Year.
Speaking from his Pretoria home base in South Africa’s north, de Villiers said playing in the BBL and for the Heat had always been on his radar, and it was the package of batting at the Gabba and the lifestyle that playing in Brisbane provides that proved the clincher in his decision to travel to Australia this summer.
“You go through moments after retirement when you’re really keen to play, then you just want to be at home,” de Villiers said of his decision-making when it came to the BBL.
“It’s really difficult to balance that out. Time spent at home and time away, so I’m very selective of where I play at the moment, and the body is getting a bit older so I can’t play too much.
“I like to be at home over the Christmas and New year period, but I couldn’t say no to coming to Brisbane and joining in on the fun.
“It’s one of the best tournaments around and I’ve been following it for a while now.
“From what I’ve heard from other players who have played there, it’s just all positives. The standard of cricket is good, and they get big crowds.
“I must also say the Brisbane Heat have always stood out to me. They play the kind of cricket that I want to play - it's quite aggressive and they go after the attack. And the Gabba is a beautiful cricket ground. It’s got a great wicket and games are always of a high quality.”
The BBL was criticised last summer after extending the length of the season to accommodate a full home-and-away fixture, with some suggestions it would negatively impact the willingness of the game’s biggest international stars to join the competition amid an increasingly crowded T20 landscape around the world.
As a result, the League shortened the BBL|09 season and introduced new contracting rules that now allow every club to sign up to six overseas players across the season, two more than in previous years.
Only two overseas players can be in a club’s core 18-man roster at any one time, but the new guidelines allow for greater flexibility with short-term deals to work around other playing commitments in the busy December – February window.
With the addition of de Villiers for the latter half of the season, the Heat now have three internationals on their list after the recent announcement that Mujeeb Ur Rahman would return for another campaign and will this time be joined by fellow Afghan spinner Zahir Khan.
Current Heat squad: Chris Lynn (c), Max Bryant, Joe Burns, Ben Cutting, Sam Heazlett, Marnus Labuschagne, Josh Lalor, Mitch Swepson, Jack Prestwidge, Matthew Renshaw, James Pattinson, Jimmy Peirson, Mark Steketee, Mujeeb Ur Rahman (AFG), Zahir Khan (AFG), AB de Villiers (SA).
Expectations on the Heat will now rise significantly on the back of the de Villiers signing, as he gets set to bolster a batting order already loaded with firepower in young gun Max Bryant and superstar Chris Lynn.
The Heat’s aggressive approach is something that has been moulded from McCullum’s leadership, brought to the fore by Lynn, and soon to be promoted under the guidance of new coach Darren Lehmann.
And it was the opportunity to work with the latter two that helped seal his move to Brisbane.
“I was in close contact with Darren over email and that was a big part of the reason why I am coming over (to the BBL),” de Villiers said.
“He certainly pushed me over the edge. He’s a great guy and I am sure we will get to know each other well over the tournament.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for the way he played his game and the way he handled everything when he was with the Aussie team, and I am sure I can learn a bit from him with my batting.”
As an experienced campaigner of the international T20 circuit, de Villiers has experienced first-hand through the Indian Premier League the impact that his future teammate Lynn can have on a game.
Understandably, he’s looking forward to being at the non-striker's end, not the receiving end, when Lynnsanity takes aim this summer.
“He’s one hell of a player,” de Villiers says of his soon-to-be captain Lynn.
“You have a sleepless night or two before you play against him. He’s a destructive batter who can take the game away from you in a couple of overs, so it’s great to have him on our team.
“I’ve spoken to him a few times after games in the IPL and I’ve always enjoyed the way he plays the game. He really goes after the bowling, he attacks the game, and he seems like a good teammate.
“I’m looking forward to spending some time in the middle with him – it will be a lot of fun. We’ve got the ability to win some games for the team and hopefully it pays off.”
De Villiers is set to make his BBL debut when the Heat host the Adelaide Strikers at the Gabba on January 14.