AB de Villiers proved yet again on Sunday why he is regarded as one of the best batsmen South Africa has ever had - and one of the best players in the world. ANTOINETTE MULLER reports from Newlands.
By the time AB de Villiers reached his hundred – the 21st of his career – on Sunday, cordons of the Newlands press box erupted with laughter. Not boisterous and celebratory laughter – such tomfoolery is banned from the soulless glass void in the sky, of course. No, it was the kind of laughter that usually emanates from those who have experienced some sort of shock to the system.
De Villiers is a shock to any system. It doesn’t matter how many times you have watched him, analysed him, assessed him; the man just keeps on getting more audacious each time he steps out to the crease. Ordinary batsmen make batting look easy because of their textbook class, but De Villiers makes it look easy because he is so ridiculous in his approach. He doesn’t just punish bowlers, he patronises them. He doesn’t just bat, he innovates.
When South Africa resumed day three on 227-3, still 103 runs behind, not a single player had managed to get out of the 60s. When Hashim Amla became the first wicket of the day, out for 63, ordinary players might have leaned towards superstition.
But De Villiers is no ordinary player. With two rookie batsmen and the tail to come, De Villiers knew that it was up to him to push through. He’d reached his half-century in a modest 70 balls and took a further 74 to reach his century, but he was equally content to fend off dot balls as he was cheekily reverse sweeping or audaciously cutting. Yet, even with all the flamboyance, De Villiers’ approach rarely feels irresponsible. Even the riskiest of shots seems as though that’s exactly what De Villiers had planned. His ability to play across the field is second to none.
For his 148, 79 runs came through the offside while 69 came through the on side. To put that in context, Faf du Plessis scored just 16 of his 68 runs through the offside with 52 coming through the onside.
For stiff suits, De Villiers’ approach might be a touch too cheeky to fully appreciate, but he’s exactly the kind of player that modern day cricket needs. The 30-year old helped South Africa exert their dominance over the visiting West Indies. At the same time, he continued to etch his name into the book of South Africa’s greatest-ever players.
His 21st Test century puts him at fourth on the all-time list, and level with Gary Kirsten for most hundreds for the country. He surpassed the 7,500 run tally, only the third-ever South African to achieve the feat, behind Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith. He also has quite a good record at Newlands, having scored 1,029 runs here in 16 Tests.
Then there is his bromance with Hashim Amla. Since 2012, the two have scored 1,526 runs together at an average of 72.66 in just 22 innings. This is the most for any batting pair, with New Zealand’s Ross Taylor and Kane Williams second, having scored 1,472 runs in 32 innings.
When the Amla and De Villiers show comes on, everyone, except for the opposition bowling set-up, is enchanted. On day two and three of the Newlands Test, De Villiers and Amla put together 97 runs. De Villiers then combined with Stiaan van Zyl for a further 96 runs as South Africa muscled their way into a dominant position.
While the Proteas’ running between the wickets left much to be desired, De Villiers had done exactly what was required of him, but far too often, he also tries to take too much responsibility. After he notched up his hundred, he faced just 50 of the 130 deliveries that followed and his eagerness to maintain the strike while he was on a roll saw him directly involved in two run outs – that of Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn. That over-eager running is something which could still come back to bite South Africa. With the Windies applying themselves far better than anyone had anticipated, there is enough time left in the game for them to spring a surprise on their hosts.
Unless a cataclysm like that last seen during the Australian 47-all-out of 2011 hits Newlands on the fourth morning, South Africa will be made to bat again. While pockets of bad weather is forecast for the fourth day, there is plenty of time for the men from the Caribbean to notch up an irksome target. If that deceptively difficult task is something which befalls South Africa, De Villiers will have another chance to enchant. DM
West Indies trail by four runs with eight wickets remaining
West Indies 329 (Leon Johnson 54 (84), Jermaine Blackwood 56 (113); Dale Steyn 25-6-78-4) & 88/2 (Leon Johnson 37* (66); Morne Morkel 6-2-10-1)
South Africa 421 (Faf du Plessis 68 (122), AB de Villiers 148 (194); Jason Holder 24-4-87-2)
Photo: South Africa’s AB de Villiers celebrates his fifty during the second day of their first cricket Test match against New Zealand in Cape Town, January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings