Shortly after AB de Villiers pulled Jaydev Unadkat for a third consecutive six in the 19th over, one of the commentators said, “ABD – how does he do it all the time?” de Villiers phenomenal hitting like his 22-ball 55 last night has mesmerized bowlers, opposition captains, viewers and commentators for over a decade now.
But what is his secret?
Recently, de Villiers unravelled a couple of his secrets on Shane Watson’s podcast “Lessons learnt from Greats”. de Villiers felt two aspects were important – intensity and hitting the ball under his eye. It may sound simple, but it requires immense talent to execute his theory of meeting the ball right under his eye and smashing it out of the park. For a normal person or even for many international batsmen, it is common to see the batsman’s hands get in front of his head while trying to hit the ball hard. But de Villiers has mastered the art of controlling his tempo.
“For me it’s about zooming and focusing on the ball as the bowler delivers it and then lets the ball fly through the air for 2-3 meters without deciding anything,” de Villiers said to Watson. While it is difficult to fathom that de Villiers doesn’t react for that split second and still send the ball delivered at 150kmph over the fence with ease, it makes perfect sense why he was able to wait and dispatch Unadkat’s slower balls with consummate ease.
For a batsman that can incredibly wait for that fraction of second longer Unadkat’s off-cutters were like spinners’ long-hops. All he had to do was pick a spot to dispatch them to. In the space of three balls, de Villiers had changed the equation from 35 runs from 12 balls to 17 from nine balls. Unadkat was clueless and the Rajasthan’s fielder started to drop their heads.
The job was still not done yet and de Villiers knew he still had to hit at least one boundary against Jofra Archer in the 20th over to secure victory. Such was his assault on slow balls that de Villiers knew Archer was bound to bowl full or slip in the bouncer. Once Archer dished out a short one to Gurkeerat Singh, the only option Archer had was to attempt a yorker. Like all great players, de Villiers knew what the bowler was going to deliver so he went deep into his crease and waited for Archer to miss his mark. The fourth ball was fractionally off and de Villiers sent it sailing over the leg side boundary. Game over.
de Villiers stunning knock meant he was adjudged Man of the Match for the 23rd time in the IPL. It is the most by any player in IPL history and summed up his consistency. He is in a league of his own. On Saturday, when most batsmen complained about the slowness of the pitch, he used the sponginess to his advantage.
Robin Uthappa had a strike-rate of 186, but had the luxury of the new ball coming on the bat and the field restrictions. de Villiers had the pressure of the run-chase, the sluggishness of the pitch and the burden of expectation, but still managed to strike at 250.
One other key component to de Villiers’ success is that he rarely plays out a dot ball. At the start of his innings, whether it is against spin or pace, he likes to grip the bat lower on the handle and this allows him to find gaps. On Saturday, three of his first four balls were dots, but after that there was only one ball he couldn’t score from. This is an element of his game that goes unnoticed.
Once de Villiers gets into a power-hitting mode, his hands get higher on the bat, allowing him extra leverage to maximise the output. This small adjustment enhances his reach and also provides more whip to his bat swing. This is another reason he generates so much power against a low full toss or a yorker that just misses its mark. All these traits were visible in his masterful 22 ball innings against the Royals.
de Villiers is Mr Consistent, Mr 360 and Mr Unbelievable. But can he really do it every innings? As de Villiers revealed in the podcast, “Doing it every time is hard, it is impossible to have juices flowing every time that is the hardest part that’s why I have utmost respect for Virat Kohli." Bangalore will feel with de Villiers and Kohli in such a great form, maybe this is their season. After all, it's 2020.
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