An emphatic victory against the West Indies, engineered by AB de Villiers, showed what South Africa is capable of when just keeping things simple. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
No sooner had the South African public slammed down the panic buttons, than AB de Villiers and his men responded to produce a clinical and convincing performance against a West Indies side – who must be sick of the sight of them by now. On Friday, the South African batsmen all pulled together to score over 400 runs, and to add insult to injury, the back-up bowlers rubbed salt in the Windies’ wounds by dismissing them for just 151.
Once again, it was a win engineered by the enigma that is AB de Villiers. The fastest-to-150 landmark he missed out on when he so hammered the West Indies at the Wanderers a few weeks ago was achieved. There was not a single dot ball in their Batting Powerplay and the South Africans notched up 222 runs in the last 15 overs. It was brutally destructive and exactly what South Africa needed to wake from their slumber. Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw, in the team for an injured JP Duminy, all started the car (each passing the 60-run mark) only for De Villiers to hijack it and speed away. His unbeaten 162 off 66 balls was yet another lesson in how to redefine batting.
He took just 12 balls to bash his way from 100 to 150, beating the previous record by 19 balls as South Africa romped to a 408-run total. By his side for most of his innings was Rilee Rossouw, and the two seesawed through the overs with Rossouw taking on the role of aggressor at the start. They combined for 134 runs in just over 12 and Rossouw rekindled yet another selection dilemma as South Africa head into the latter stages of the tournament. Having scored two centuries in the lead-up to the World Cup, Rossouw was perhaps unlucky to miss out on a place in the starting XI. He cannot bowl, so his omission is natural, but that doesn’t make it any less cruel.
“Rilee played a big part today in me getting off my feet. I didn’t feel too well when I was walking out to bat, really flat, and he had a lot of energy about him, a lot of intensity,” De Villiers explained after the win.
“He was getting into really good positions, making it look flat out there, which wasn’t the case the previous 10 or 15 overs. So I fed a lot off him.”
Luckily for South Africa, the Rossouw selection dilemma will solve itself for the match against Ireland. Duminy is unlikely to recover in time for the match against Ireland on Tuesday, so much will depend on how he performs in that match. Another good knock from Rossouw will leave selectors scratching their heads as South Africa heads towards the latter stages of the tournament. Quinton de Kock has been in woeful form since returning from injury, most notably in the way he has been giving his wicket away.
Barring his 66 in a warm-up match against Sri Lanka, De Kock has not passed the 20-run mark in any of the matches he has played since coming back from tearing his ankle ligaments. He has looked glued to the crease and a little bit more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than usual. Omitting the talented youngster will, of course, heap more pressure on De Villiers, since it would mean the captain needs to take the gloves. The saying goes that there is no practice like match practice, but if De Kock continues to struggle in the lead-up to the knock-outs, it will become incredibly difficult to justify his selection when an in-form player like Rossouw is sitting on the sidelines.
These are worries for a different, day, though; for now South Africa can also reflect on a pleasing performance from Kyle Abbott. With a woeful ODI record leading into the tournament, Abbott finally found some zip and consistency against the West Indies, taking two for 37 as the Windies crumbled to a dismal total. With Vernon Philander still out of action, Abbott’s wickets as well as Faf du Plessis’ return to bowling is a welcome boost for South Africa.
While it was “only the West Indies”, the win was evidence of what South Africa can do when they keep things simple. The loss against India, which exposed weaknesses South Africa has previously papered over, came after a week of complicated avoidance tactics by the Proteas. Before the match, De Villiers and his men kept a low profile, avoiding the media as much as possible, something which goes completely against their usual approach of being open and approachable. Their reasoning was most probably rooted in trying to avoid Indian journalists, who simply cannot resist asking questions about the dreaded c-word, even when it is not a factor.
Against the Windies, South Africa once again looked free and relaxed, and the team’s response underscores that they are still capable of greatness – even with the soft underbelly that can be exposed when things get a little bit too complicated. DM
Photo: South Africa’s AB de Villiers hits a boundary during the Cricket World Cup match against the West Indies at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) February 27, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Reed