After another breathtaking knock, this time in the IPL, AB de Villiers must be the luckiest batsman in world cricket, writes Kobus Pretorius.
It’s becoming a habit now. It’s becoming a bit of a drag for writers and fans alike to think of new superlatives with which to describe the pure genius and talent of AB de Villiers.
There was a time in his career, about three or four years ago, when De Villiers wasn’t crazy about the idea of taking over the wicketkeeping duties from Mark Boucher, especially in Test cricket.
The main reason for that was De Villiers wanted to become the best batsman in the world, and he and his coaches felt that it would be difficult to achieve that if he were to take the big gloves in Test cricket while also batting in the top order.
(Un)fortunately one might say, De Villiers ended up taking over from Boucher when the latter was forced to retire following his serious eye injury in the tour of England in 2012. AB as a wicketkeeper gave the side a good balance, and despite some back problems he managed to fill that role during a hugely successful time for South African cricket.
De Villiers was a very good batsman back then, but he is a great batsman now and since Quinton de Kock has relieved him of his wicketkeeping duties in all three formats of the game, De Villiers has taken his game to another level completely.
What followed was record-breaking knocks in ODI cricket, first against the West Indies in a home series before the World Cup, and then in the tournament itself, again tormenting the men from the Caribbean.
De Villiers has just hit an unbeaten 133 off 59 balls at a strike rate of 225 for the Royals Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. The innings brought with it words such as ‘superhuman’, ‘freak’, ‘from another planet’ and quite simply, ‘special’.
The odds are those same words will be used a few more times to describe De Villiers before he retires one day.
What has been consistent about these special knocks is De Villiers’ reaction to them afterwards. He has been humble throughout and doesn’t seem to enjoy the attention his genius brings.
‘It was just my day’ is a phrase that has consistently been used by the Proteas ODI captain to describe his record-breaking feats. If he did it once, that explanation would have been valid. But he has done it three or four times now in the space of six months.
If the phrase ‘it was just my day’ were to be true, it would make De Villiers the luckiest batsman in the world.
But it isn’t luck. It happened once and now it keeps on happening, which means De Villiers can do it almost at will.
Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand skipper playing for the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, described De Villiers’ innings of 133 as ‘one of the best knocks I have ever seen’.
‘AB is playing a different game than the rest of us fellows and he does it in all three formats of the game,’ McCullum told iplt20.com.
‘He is a freak of nature but he is so humble as well. When speaking after the game he just deflected the praise to everyone else. He is not only a fantastic cricketer but an absolute legend bloke as well. It is nice to see a man like that play like that and entertain the crowd like he did.’
Asked what he would take from AB’s batting if he could steal one thing, McCullum replied: ‘Jeez, it is pretty hard to pick one. He can hit it all around the park. He has tremendous balance at the crease. Anyone who can access the areas of the field that he can and with the power he can has got to have very good eyes.
‘But I think his balance is one thing that allows him to be as strong as he is all around the wicket. So, if I could steal one thing from him, it would be his balance while batting.’
Former New Zealand bowler Iain O’Brien, in a video program for ESPNCricinfo, said it was one of those days where you think: ‘I’m glad I retired a while ago.’
‘It was a special knock,’ said O’Brien. ‘AB de Villiers is head and shoulders the best player in the world at the moment and in the best form of his life.
‘He is having a lot of ‘my days’ at the moment. The freaky think is he doesn’t miss.’
And that is the point. De Villiers has no weaknesses and the only way to get his wicket is to hope he makes a mistake or to run him out.
It’s great to see someone as talented as De Villiers do justice to that talent. He is 31 years old now and there is no sign of him ending his destruction of bowling attacks anytime soon. He probably has four or five more years left at the top of his game.
The only thing fans can do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.
As for the opposition bowlers; pray for a run-out.