Alt text here


over 4 years ago | Interviews


Simply from looking at the scorecard, you won’t get any evidence of the first incredible thing AB de Villiers did in Middlesex pink this summer. The entry for Dan Lawrence’s dismissal just reads ‘c George Scott b Nathan Sowter’, suggesting nothing of the initial catch, twirl and relay from the man they call Mr. 360 that preceded the ball nestling in Scott’s palms.

“I like to pretend it was 50/50 involvement,” says Scott. “I saw it go miles in the air and it was swirling everywhere so it was a brilliant catch in the first place. No doubt he would have been able to do it himself — just flip it back to himself – but we practise getting close to someone in case he needs to offload it. I was just supporting. He’s just an incredibly gifted fielder and has so much experience fielding out on the boundary that it’s bread and butter to him even though it looks ridiculous to us.”

De Villiers was far from done, racing to 88* off 43 balls to turn a tricky chase into a cakewalk. “It was pretty extraordinary to be honest,” says Scott. “It looks like he doesn’t take a single risk and that he’s trying to pretty much chip the ball and it ends up going ninety metres so you don’t know where you can bowl to him. It’s an innings which looks completely a level above anything I’ve seen before really. He just looks a cut above.”

It’s the kind of performance that has to be seen to be believed, and thanks to the wonders of social media, plenty have. Highlights of the game have been viewed almost a quarter of a million times on YouTube with Middlesex Cricket’s overall following increasing from just under 150,000 to just over 180,000 since the South African’s arrival. Call it the AB effect.

The uptick shows no sign of slowing either, not off the field, and not on it. Five days later, the Seaxes eased past Surrey by 37 runs, completing their first set of back-to-back T20 Blast wins since 2016 and their first away London derby T20 win since 2012. Two games in, Middlesex already have as many victories to their name as in the whole of last season.

“There’s a few young guys getting a run in the team,” says Scott. “So I don’t think there really is a shadow of past experiences. I feel like it’s a fresh team with a new direction and new coaches and I feel like we’re just in a good position. Obviously, we haven’t done that brilliantly in white-ball cricket in the past but I don’t think that really affects us this season.”

To put it all down to de Villiers is perhaps inaccurate. In that second win, Dawid Malan was the star, smashing 117 off 57. AB made just three, leaving Scott to once again apply the finishing touches with a 24-ball 35. He came in at four for just the third time in his T20 career, the beneficiary of a newly flexible batting order.

According to Scott, had a wicket fallen early, Nick Gubbins would have entered, and as the game went on he and John Simpson were each ready to take guard to maintain a left-right combination at the crease. Paradoxically, that fluidity has only made each player feel more set in their roles; they might not know exactly when they’ll be coming in, but they know just what they’ll be doing when they get out there.

“One of the great strengths of Stuey (Stuart Law) is that he’s so honest with us,” says Scott. “And with that clarity it means that in these games we know the roles we are fulfilling and we discuss those roles and we are practising those in training and that helps us massively.”

Scott is now firmly established as Middlesex’s finisher, having also filled the role during the Seaxes’ One-Day Cup campaign in which they qualified for the knockouts for the first time since 2009. He averaged 37.60 at a strike rate of 138.23, notably making 64 off 30 in an intent-signalling 366/8 in the first game of the season, against Essex.

“Playing second team cricket, it’s not really where I have batted but obviously it’s the role which I’m in at the moment and I’m happy to take that opportunity and try to fulfil that role as best as possible,” he says. “As an all-rounder the best thing I can do is just try to impact the game where I can to win games. And coming in towards the back end and just whacking them is fulfilling that.”

As he aims to improve, having a player of de Villiers’ quality around to learn from is invaluable. “He’s really good with us in terms of chatting about things and he’s awesome around the group,” says Scott. “He’s an incredibly nice guy and obviously we just try to pick his brains about the stuff he does. Cricket’s an individual game and it’s about what works for you, but the more you can talk to someone like him the better in terms of learning about the game and how you can improve yourself.”

It’s something of a dream come true for a young player. “We are just massive fans of his and have been since growing up so it’s surreal to think that you will play with him. When you do meet him, you can’t really believe that you are actually playing a cricket match with this guy who you’ve been watching all the time and that he’s actually as good as you always thought. It’s just really cool and it creates a buzz.”

That buzz extends beyond social media numbers and the dressing room inner sanctum. “The two games we’ve had have sold out at Lord’s on a Thursday and the Oval on a Tuesday so I’ve no doubt that part of that is because it’s AB.”

Looking ahead in the schedule, one game sticks out. Middlesex v Somerset at Richmond on August 4th, a Sunday afternoon that promises to be anything but lazy. The club setting will give fans an opportunity to see de Villiers in action up close, and the shorter boundaries could just give him the chance to do something incredible.

Even if he doesn’t make another run for Middlesex, de Villiers will already have left his mark, in tickets sold and eyeballs found, but especially in the impact he’s had on the players in awe of him, playing alongside him, and learning from him.

Share this post