“Coming from the same school, having the same coach, there were always going to be similarities drawn. But it is a lot closer than I thought it would be,” says Deon Botes, the head cricket coach at Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool – Affies, as it is better known – in Pretoria.
AB de Villiers went to Affies and so did Dewald Brevis. And Brevis imitates De Villiers almost to a tee. “The way he throws, the way he walks… every single thing is the same,” says South Africa Under-19 coach Shukri Conrad.
Indeed, Brevis has the same follow-through when he bats, wears the same No. 17 that De Villiers wore during his playing career. It can be disconcerting. But “he’s comfortable with that and I’m comfortable with him being comfortable”, says Conrad.
He would say that though, given that Brevis carried the team almost single-handedly at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in January. He was awarded Player of the Tournament with an aggregate of 506 runs, a new record for the competition that eclipsed Indian superstar Shikhar Dhawan’s tally.
His talent aside, the concern for some is that Brevis is too much like his hero and thus lacks individuality. “It is very important that a player has his own identity,” says Botes.
Titans franchise coach Mandla Mashimbyi says he can see differences between the two players. “I don’t think he’s a carbon copy of AB.” Mashimbyi mentions small details about their respective batting techniques, but only he as a coach and someone who has worked with Brevis from the age of 11 has noticed. “He’s obviously watched him a lot and when you have someone like that, that you admire, you are going to steal a few things from them and make it your own.”
Botes came across Brevis while scouting for Affies at Hennopspark primary school in Centurion. “You could see [the mimicking of AB] develop from primary school.”
The Affies coach oversaw the start of De Villiers’ career too, and the signs of a top-quality batter were evident for him early on with both De Villiers and Brevis. “When AB arrived at Affies, he could hit an on-drive. It’s very difficult for young cricketers to hit a good on-drive. Dewald came here and he could hit an on-drive as well. So those kinds of things tell you a lot as a coach, that this is a special player.”
The major difference between the two relates to the speed at which each committed to cricket. De Villiers allowed himself to play different sports and was good enough at them that had he taken another path, such as tennis, many say he would have excelled at that sport too. Brevis only ever wanted to play cricket.
“He made a decision early on that he didn’t want to play rugby. He didn’t want to get injured. He did play a bit of hockey. He decided early on to specialise in cricket,” says Botes.
De Villiers might have been the better all-round sportsman, but Botes says Brevis is better than his idol where it matters. “AB may not like me saying this, but at an early stage maybe Dewald has a bit more skill. He’s hitting paddle shots and reverse sweeping. When AB was at school, those things were frowned upon. In the modern game, the players have to do it. Dewald developed those skills a bit earlier. AB struggled with his game plans as a young player. Dewald is a bit closer, it is happening a bit faster for Dewald at this stage.”
While his school coach describes Brevis as someone who “eats, sleeps and drinks cricket”, Conrad saw a better balance when Brevis was part of the national Under-19 team. “He was a bit of a prankster off the field. Whenever there was kak happening in a team hotel, he was involved. There was shaving cream on my hotel room door, or my room key would be changed… that was him and everyone enjoyed that.
“Very often you get these talents and they are cricket geeks and it’s just cricket, cricket, cricket and there is nothing else to them. He’s doing braais, he’s always causing kak, he’s got weird taste in music, he likes his dogs. He was well liked by everyone in the team. They were all very happy for his success.”
An even keel
That relaxed personality and respect for elders and teammates has always been apparent to Mashimbyi and more recently to Heinrich Klaasen, one of the senior players at Northerns. Klaasen was tasked with “looking after” Brevis when he joined the Northerns team for the CSA T20 Challenge in Gqeberha straight after the World Cup.
“I remember when he arrived, Mandla told him to go and check in at the hotel but he insisted that he wanted to sit with the boys and just chat and have a cold drink. It was nice to see that. He was starstruck but he wanted to talk, learn and just be around,” says Klaasen.
Klaasen recalls that Brevis was particularly in awe of Quinton de Kock, to the extent that he followed De Kock to the beach to do some fishing and joined in for an obligatory round of golf. It was during that tournament that the Indian Premier League (IPL) held its draft and the Mumbai Indians picked Brevis for a fee in the region of R6 million.
“We still said we’d have a celebration [after getting the IPL deal], just a beer, and he said no because he wanted to keep things the same. Just that was a small thing, one beer for him was changing and he didn’t want to do that. I gained a lot of respect for him doing that.”
Mashambyi, Conrad and Botes all say that little about Brevis has changed away from the game. “He’s shown exceptional maturity, given all the hype,” says Mashimbyi. “He comes from a family that is very strong. For me, he’s still the kid I met when he was 11. He’s very pleasant to be around. He still calls me Oom (Uncle) and I’m sure he’s not going to change.”
True to his roots
Botes says the Brevises are a tight unit, with strong Christian and family values. They weren’t cricket aficionados but once their youngest son showed an affinity for the sport, they gave him all the backing they could. This included building a “net”’ in the backyard.
“I just hope he gets managed well and they keep going in the right direction with him,” says Botes. “I used to tell all the Under-19 guys, look, whenever you make it, I don’t want to hear my name, just leave the tickets at the gate for me,” says Conrad. “When he got picked up at the IPL, he sent a message: ‘Ek kan nou bekostig om Coach daai kaartjie te kry (I can now afford to get Coach that ticket). He’s as honest as the day is long.
“He’s the type of laaitie that while he’s got Sachin Tendulkar in one ear and Mahela Jayawardene in the other,” says Conrad, referring to the batting legends who coach at Mumbai Indians, “he’ll still reach out to me or Neil McKenzie or even Botes to check in if he’s battling with something. He is not overawed that he’s got access to Sachin or Mahela and so ‘fuck everyone else, I’m the big dog now’. He knows how to play the big dog.”
Brevis continued calling him during the IPL and Botes tells of how he was invited to an online meeting with Jayawardene and another of Mumbai’s coaches, Robin Singh, to talk about Brevis.
The way of the world
For all the similarities with De Villiers, no one yet knows the impact of the one major difference that Botes and Mashimbyi recognise: Brevis’ breakout has happened earlier and he is more rounded as a batter than De Villiers was at the same age.
“People forget he’s still 19. Even AB wasn’t exposed at the age of 19 to the world, so we didn’t see what AB was like at that stage. Dewald is being introduced so early because of the times that we live in. Everything happens so quickly for a lot of guys,” says Mashimbyi.
Botes and Conrad agree. “Some might say it’s happening at breakneck speed for him, but that’s the way of the world now,” says Conrad. “I think we must also stop being these humble South Africans. We always talk others up, how great Tendulkar was, Kohli is amazing or whatever. We have someone here that has landed in our lap and we are wondering if we must take things slowly. No man, there’s one way of finding out and that’s to expose him.”.
“Dewald has got ‘it’ to go to the highest level and he’ll probably get there sooner than the other players,” says Botes. “He got into the IPL at the age of 18, earlier than any other player that we’ve had. Things will happen faster for him than other players.”
He may still be Baby AB, but he is being forced to grow up quickly and will soon step out of his hero’s shadow.