AB de Villiers is clearly not done with the game just yet, even though he retired from international cricket earlier this year.
Even as the former South Africa captain is using his time away from the pitch to be with his family, he is considering the various options in front of him.
He certainly hopes to play club or franchise cricket around the world for the next “two or three, maybe even four years”. But while he is at it, he wants to give back to the game by providing support and encouragement to young and upcoming players.
It is primarily why he said he agreed to become ambassador of the UAE T20x, a Twenty20 tournament involving franchises to be held across the country from December 19-January 11 under the auspices of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB).
"The main thing that attracted me the most to this tournament is what it will do for young, emerging players," De Villiers told The National. "It will give them a great opportunity to play alongside some of the world's best players."
What excites one of the game’s most recognisable names even more is the prospect of developing players from the Associate member nations.
According to De Villiers, leagues such as the UAE T20x will help to bring players from Test-playing nations closer to those from Associate member nations. It might even serve to level the playing field between them, at least to a certain extent.
To illustrate his point, he used the example of Rashid Khan, who has captured the imagination of cricket fans around the world because of the exposure he received from playing in the annual Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament.
The 19-year-old leg-spinner from Afghanistan is already a household name in the IPL due in large part to his exploits for Sunrisers Hyderabad during the past two seasons. Aside from representing his national team, Rashid is also involved in Australia’s Big Bash League, the Pakistan Super League (PSL), the Bangladesh Premier League and the Caribbean Premier League T20 competitions.
De Villiers has no doubt there are more Rashid Khans out there waiting to be discovered and, just as critically, looking for the right stage on which to make a name for themselves.
“Not long ago, I was a youngster when I started playing cricket,” De Villiers said. “I made my IPL debut 10 or 11 years ago. One of my fondest memories of the tournament was spending time with guys like [former Australian cricketers] Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne – some legends of the game, who I did not have a reach-out to [before the IPL], you know.”
Now that he can be counted as “one of those older guys with experience”, the man who has aggregated 20,014 runs in his international career alone is excited “to be sharing my experience around some of the guys who want to become some of the best players in the world”.
There is no doubt in De Villiers’ mind that the ECB is taking the long view to cricket development, and more specifically player development, through the UAE T20x.
Thanks to its inherent advantages, such as demographics and location, the UAE has grown into a sought-after cricket hub for high-profile international teams over the past nearly 40 years.
It has served as the Pakistan cricket team’s home away from home for much of the past decade. The IPL and the PSL have been held here, while Afghanistan plans to hold its own T20 competition in Sharjah.
Throw in the fact that the UAE national team – made up primarily of players from the subcontinent, including some homegrown ones – performed well at ICC tournaments lately, and it makes sense for the ECB to use this foundation upon which to build something that will hopefully last long and pay dividends.
“And because of this [long-term approach], it has made grassroots development of the game at the heart of its tournament – the UAE T20x,” De Villiers explained. “I think will generate new income streams for UAE cricket for the coming years, and that can be reinvested directly into the grassroots of the game – into coaching, facilities, for infrastructure of cricket in the UAE.
“So I think locally for UAE and UAE cricket, it's a great, great concept.”
De Villiers, who will not be playing in the tournament but intends to spend quality time with the teams and players during the action, expects to see some established names to feature but also players of the future.
“I think we can expect lots of international stars playing, but a big focus on young and upcoming players, which is what I really love about the tournament,” he said. “I can’t wait to see how it goes in the first year.”
But like with everything in life and cricket, there needs to be a balance, the wicketkeeper-batsman has warned. He is aware of the concern about a growing number of T20 leagues around the world and expects the International Cricket Council to find ways to strike a balance between international and domestic tournaments.
But he struck an optimistic note, saying: “I think there is room for everyone to survive.”