AB's pity for suspended Aussies
South African believes Cape Town ball-tampering controversy was 'blown up massively'
27 April 2018, 10:08 PM AEST
As the man who could well be considered indirectly responsible for the Australians' decision to tamper with the ball in South Africa – such was his incredible form with the bat – AB de Villiers' take on the fiasco provokes more interest than most.
De Villiers, who hammered 427 runs in the series at 71.16, scored the hundred that swung the series in his team's favour in Port Elizabeth, then was proving an immovable object in the third Test in Cape Town, and was at the crease when the ball-tampering incident unfolded.
The drama that followed – which ultimately resulted in year-long suspensions for Steve Smith and David Warner, and a nine-month suspension for Cameron Bancroft – rocked the cricket world, and de Villiers couldn't help but take pity on his rivals as he watched from afar.
"It was blown up massively. Yes, it is a serious matter, but it was taken to a level where it really hurt them individually and I felt sorry for them," de Villiers told The Guardian.
"Especially Smith, who stood up thinking he was doing the right thing by his players. The way he was punished was harsh.
"Wrong is wrong. Guys try to find a way to get the ball to reverse but you have to stay in the laws. Sandpaper? Sheesh, I don't know. I have it in my bag but that's for cleaning my bat."
De Villiers has played seven Test series against Australia, dating back to December 2005, and is well qualified to judge the extent to which the most recent showdown between the two fierce rivals crossed lines it shouldn't have with regards to verbal on-field exchanges.
"It was seriously tough cricket but that's how Tests should be played," he said. "There was all this talk about 'the line' and you don't want to get too personal.
"But letting a player know there is a series on the line and he is about to lose it for his country, that is part of the game. That's what we did.
"I felt they got quite personal. Although we had an instance in Durban where one of our players (Quinton de Kock) did too ... that's a long story.
"But overall, I loved the toughness of the cricket played. It's just the rest that was uncalled for."
De Villiers was also at the centre of a controversy in the series opener in Durban. With South Africa chasing 417 to win, the star batsman was run out for a duck from the first ball he faced, and in the Australians' ensuing celebration, spinner Nathan Lyon dropped the ball on the batsman as he lay on the ground.
Lyon's action was widely condemned as unsporting but de Villiers insists it was again made to be a bigger issue than what he perceived it to be.
"It was a big moment for them in that first Test because I was in good form," he said. "I got a text from Lyon afterwards apologising and, look, he's not a nasty guy, so I took no offence.
"It wasn't a good look for cricket but personally? It didn't mean a lot."