To watch AB de Villiers at his best, in whichever format, is to experience the gratification one gets watching a master craftsman plying his trade.
Delhi Capitals (DC) after capturing the wicket of the dangerous Glenn Maxwell in the ninth over, with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) at 60/3, must have felt they were in a relatively solid position. The run rate was just over seven, which means the Capitals had come through the Powerplay overs essentially unscathed; and they had knocked over three big wickets, those of Virat Kohli, Devdutt Padikkal, and Maxwell.
Their seamers had bowled well so far, with Ishant Sharma and Avesh Khan picking up a wicket apiece. Kagiso Rabada Had allowed 10 runs in the over he bowled, the second of the innings, but had gone past the outside edge of Padikkal’s bat on one occasion and had found his inside edge on another.
Amit Mishra, who was responsible for terminating Maxwell’s innings, was delivering his leg-breaks and googly with equal felicity. And while Axar Patel was taken for 10 runs in the over he bowled, including a huge six over long-on struck by Maxwell, he had elicited a false shot from the batsman and is well known as a wily practitioner.
Despite being in a place of relative comfort the Capitals would have had one gigantic concern. And that would have been due to the fact that the man strolling in to replace Maxwell was none other than AB de Villiers, the former South African star performer in all formats, RCB’s wicketkeeper, and, perhaps, T20 cricket's foremost batting virtuoso.
The foregoing claim, we all understand, is a huge one. RCB’s captain is Virat Kohli, and the team has the formidable Maxwell within its ranks. The opposing captain was the incendiary Rishabh Pant. The West Indian Chris Gayle has the most sixes in Twenty20 (T20) cricket, and others participants in this season’s Indian Premier League (IPL) include Jos Buttler, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard, and David Warner.
Yet with all their claims and capabilities, it is doubtful there is anyone capable of dismembering an attack like the elegant South African. Infinitely skilled, he has shown as much composure battling the game’s quickest and most intimidating pacers on bouncy pitches, as he has while unlocking the mysteries of the best spinners on the most deceitful surfaces. To watch him at his best, in whichever format, is to experience the gratification one gets watching a master craftsman plying his trade.
Bowl wherever you like at whatever pace; when on song he will still find a way to take full toll. His 360 degrees scoring range means there is no area of the ground that the fielding team can safely neglect, though the ease with which he clears the boundary often renders fielders redundant.
The pitch for Tuesday’s game was the same one used the day before. We knew, therefore, scoring would not be easy because of the reasons listed by KL Rahul on Monday: sluggish, two-paced surface with up and down bounce. Kohli managed 12 runs off 11 deliveries, Padikkal used 14 balls to score 17 runs and Maxwell was 25 off 20 when he lost his wicket.
Even Pant, capable of scoring as quickly as anyone, required all of 48 balls to strike 58 runs. De Villiers crashed 75 off 42 deliveries with three fours and five sixes in a player-of-the-match performance that enabled his team to ask the Capitals to get 172 runs to win. At the end, fueled by rousing innings of 52 off 25 balls by Shimron Hetmyer, they fell only one run short.
Hetmyer’s was an outstanding effort that showed what the mercurial West Indian is capable of. He has not shown much of his batting pedigree lately. Hopefully, for the Capitals and for cricket, this innings is an indication of a return to good form.
It is instructive to note that de Villiers was watchful at the beginning of his knock, hardly hinting at any violence until he slapped the 10th delivery he faced past mid-off for four. Seventeen balls later he lifted Axar Patel back over his head for six. He took 10 off Rabada’s fourth over, the 18th of the innings, including a sumptuous pull over deep midwicket off a ball that he took from about off-stump. And when Marcus Stoinis was asked to bowl the final over of the innings, his first, de Villiers took him for 22 with three sixes, one over long-off, one over fine leg, and the other over deep point.
After the game, a grateful captain (Kohli) spoke of de Villier’s exploits, “AB doesn't like me saying this, but he hasn't played competitive cricket for five months, and given that, AB's innings was absolutely top-notch as he has done time and again for us.”
In October and November this year, the T20 World Cup is scheduled to take place in India. Hopefully, by then the COVID–19 pandemic will be under control so that the tournament can be held without undue concern. De Villiers has retired from international cricket, but there is talk that he might make a comeback for the event. It will be a pity if he does not. The eyes of the entire cricket community should be allowed to witness the batting master at work.
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