'The bigger the pressure, the more I relax'
AB de Villiers is just 20 years old and has played only three Tests so far in his career. But already he has identified himself as a major talent for the future - whether as an attack-minded opening batsman, a dogged match-saving No. 7, or a dependable wicketkeeper with an eye for the spectacular. In the build-up to the Johannesburg Test, he spoke to Andrew Miller:
Your first month of international cricket has been eventful, to say the least. Have you had a chance to digest it all yet?
It definitely all happened very quickly, but it was very exciting and I've enjoyed every second of it. It's only just beginning to sink in now, but I felt I played well in a variety of different roles. I was seeing the ball well, and now it's time to push on from there.
Judging by the way the momentum of the series has changed, that unbeaten half-century at Durban could be crucial in the long run
Yeah, it could be very important. I like that type of situation, though. I enjoy the pressure, because sometimes I can get too relaxed and give my wicket away. I think it was a crucial little period of my career. I enjoyed the innings, and I know the team was very happy as well. I just focussed on my own game, and I believed that if I stayed there, we'd draw the game.
You have seemed totally nerveless throughout all three Tests, no matter what's been asked of you. Has that really been the case?
It's funny, but in all honesty, the bigger the pressure, the more I relax. It's been like that ever since I was at school. I admit I was a bit tense for the first few balls of the first game, but from then, everything fell into place. Winning the toss and batting first at Port Elizabeth helped, because I was opening and I could get rid of the nerves straight away. But yeah, I was pretty relaxed in all three games, and I enjoyed it.
You're still only 20 and you haven't even played one full season of domestic cricket. How tough is it to learn on your feet at the highest level?
It's not that difficult. After all, everyone who enters the Test arena has to start learning from Day One, and even the most experienced players are still learning. I've got great support from my coach and the senior players, so it's no big deal. The pressures at this level are bigger, but I'm still enjoying it.
Would you have preferred to stick to one clear role in these games, rather than switching between an opener and a wicketkeeper?
Yeah, it's been a bit confusing to jump from one to the other, and there's a good chance that I'll be back as a batsman again in this Test. It's difficult to adjust, but as I say, I just like to play cricket, and any opportunity to play for my country is brilliant. I aim to do my best in both departments, but if I'm picked as a batsman, I'll play as a batsman.
Ideally though, what would you prefer to be?
I don't like it at No. 7 - it's too low for me. Ideally, I'd like to keep and bat up the order a bit, perhaps at No. 5 or 6, because I like the responsibility of being a top-order batsman. But if I'm not keeping, then it's not so bad to open, and if I get selected for the one-day games, I'd like to open and keep - that would be perfect for me.
Mind you, batting at No. 7 has never done Adam Gilchrist any harm ...
Yeah, he's a great player, and I'd like to be pretty much the same sort of player as him. If I have to bat at No. 7, then that's all right, although I fancy myself as a top-order batsman. Batting has always been the major part of my game, but while I'm young, I don't care - I'm happy to do both roles. When I'm older, perhaps I'd prefer just to be a batsman.
You're clearly an attack-minded player. Does that come naturally to you, or is it something you've worked on?
No, that's been natural to me since I started playing cricket. I like to be aggressive and get the score moving, while at the same time playing solidly and reducing my risks. But I'll always be looking to attack.
Does that go for your keeping as well? Are you aggressive behind the stumps?
I try to be supportive and talk to the boys, and get them going in the field. I don't like to talk to the batsman so much, although I will if I have to. As a wicketkeeper, it's important for the fielding side that I keep my energy levels up. And with Ray Jennings [who was a wicketkeeper himself] as a coach, I can only get better.
What's it like having Mark Boucher back in the squad?
It's great. The squad only got back together today, so I don't know him very well yet, but he's a nice lad, and he's so experienced that it can only do good things for the squad. He'll help me with my keeping and I can learn a lot from him.
You seem to be the type of person who is brilliant at all sports. How did that come about?
[Chuckles] That comes pretty much from the family. I grew up with sport from as early as I can remember. We used to play cricket in the back yard all the time, and golf, tennis and rugby were my other three major sports. I considered each of them at different stages of my career, and they've all had their ups and downs. But cricket came through the strongest when I was 16.
What position were you at rugby?
I played fly-half. My dad was a good full-back in his time, and he was particularly keen for me to take that route. When I was 18, I played for a provincial side, the Blue Bulls, and I got a couple of offers to sign for them and go to university. I considered it for a while, but it wasn't meant to be - I'd already decided I was set on cricket. The tennis happened when I was a bit younger. I was 13 and in Standard Five when we had to decide whether I should go to Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, but in the end that didn't happen either. My parents didn't want me to go!
Your dad is a doctor - did it ever cross your mind to follow his footsteps?
Not really. I was never that strong academically, and sport was too time-consuming for me to think along those lines. I studied for a year, but it was nothing serious. Still, I passed my Matric pretty well, so I guess if I hadn't done sports, I'd have gone into medicine instead.
What was it like growing up in Limpopo Province, in the far north of the country?
Ah, it was great. It's a really relaxed lifestyle up there, where everyone knows everyone. I come from a great little town, so it's nice to be in the middle of things. I actually spent my high school years in Pretoria, then came home for the weekends, so that made for a good little balance between a calm life and a busy life. And I popped home this week between matches, which is really nice to do every once in a while - just sit around, have a braai [barbecue], go to the bar. It's a good balance.
You've now got two massive games ahead of you. How is the team prepared?
We're very positive and relaxed, but we're feeling pretty humble as well. England are the No. 2 side in the world, and we know they can bounce back. But the mood in the camp is brilliant and the team spirit is great. Personally, I don't yet know what my role will be, but I'm ready to take on any position in the side. This will be the big test, and we're ready to go hard now.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.