AB de Villiers continues to stretch the bounds of possibility in batting and he did so once more on Sunday as South Africa claimed their maiden one-day international series win on Indian soil. The momentum should stand them in good stead heading into the Test series starting next week. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
The origins of the word ‘freak’ are not entirely clear, but some form of it stems from the Old English ‘freca’ which meant brave man or warrior. In more modern times, freak has been used to refer to somebody who is abnormal, usually in appearance, and it’s usually not meant in a nice way. Years from now when we have evolved beyond such elementary language, the definition of the word freak will probably reference AB de Villiers. Just as De Villiers continues to reinvent batting, so he has reinvented the word ‘freak’.
His genius was on display once again on Sunday as South Africa hammered out 438-4 in their 50 overs against India. Supported by Quinton de Kock (109 off 87) and a cramping Faf du Plessis (133 off 115), De Villiers showed once more why he is the best batsman in world cricket. He scored 119 off just 61 balls as South Africa claimed a massive 214-run win and won their first ever one-day international series in India.
While the team deserve plenty of plaudits, it takes a special kind of player to have the whole stadium filled with opposition supporters chant your name. But that is exactly the kind of mesmerising effect De Villiers had on the crowd at the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday. De Villiers and Co had been demolishing the Indian bowlers, but so enchanting is his approach that even when you are being punished, you want more. While he proves that he is human through his inability to keep up with over rates, he continues to stretch the possibilities of batting. He is, without a doubt, the most skilful batsman to ever play the sport.
To an extent, De Villiers even lives up the current definition of freak – having something physically abnormal about him. He is one of the few batsmen in the world who can trick a bowler – and fielders – into not reading his body language. When he looks as if he will drive, he will reverse sweep. It is impossible to know exactly how to bowl to him because no matter what bowlers do, De Villiers will find a way to put them away.
His ability to construct an innings – in all formats – is exquisite. His first 50 on Sunday came off just 34 balls, with a top edge six off a short ball that cramped him for room. The second 50 came off just 24 balls, also with a six. De Villiers doesn’t just accelerate his innings, he completely changes dimension. It seems almost unfathomable that he had any dot balls, but there were 13 in his entire innings. His first 50 comprised of just four boundaries – two fours and two sixes. In the second, there were seven, one four and seven sixes. His ability to move things along is unparalleled and he can do so no matter where he bats.
Armchair critics (including the author of this piece), believe De Villiers should bat as high up the order as possible and even open the batting in all limited-overs matches. But here’s the thing: no other batsman has scored more hundreds coming in after the 25th over than De Villiers. On five occasions he has scored a century when coming in at the halfway mark, the only other one-day batsman who comes close to having achieved that is Virat Kohli, who has done so twice.
By the time De Villiers strolled to the crease, South Africa were already in control, having notched up 187-2 in 27 overs. But De Villiers doesn’t like his team simply being in control: he prefers complete dominance. South Africa would go on to score 229 runs in 20 overs with 134 coming in the final 10. While the surface was certainly conducive to batting, it takes something freakish to completely dominate the latter part of an innings. By the time De Villiers had finished, there was not an area on the ground where he did not manage to find the boundary, the bulk of them sixes.
Once in a generation, a batsman will come along who is so extraordinary that he redefines the way the game is played. From Viv Richards to Sanath Jayasuriya and now, AB de Villiers. Some are blessed enough to have seen all three in action, but everyone will agree that De Villiers is the ultimate batting freak. DM
Scorecard summary: South Africa won by 214 runs
South Africa 438-4: Faf du Plessis 133 (115), AB de Villiers 119 (61); Harbhajan Singh 10-0-70-1
India 224 all out (36 overs): Shikhar Dhawan 60 (59), Ajinkya Rahane 87 (58); Dale Steyn 7-0-38-3, Kagiso Rabada 7-0-41-4
Photo: South Africa’s captain AB de Villiers holds the trophy after they beat India in their fifth and final one-day international cricket match in Mumbai, India, October 25, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui