They call AB de Villiers ‘Mr 360’ for his ability to play shots all around the wicket and pick out areas that are impossible to protect. But perhaps the definition needs to be altered a little. It should also be a nod to his ability to play shots all around the wicket... on all kinds of pitches.
Against the Kolkata Knight Riders, de Villiers delivered a masterclass to help Royal Challengers Bangalore win five matches out of their first seven for the last time since 2013. He did it by making batting look easy on a difficult pitch where almost everyone else struggled.
The rest of the players scored 233 runs in 34.3 overs – that translates into almost a run-a-ball rate – on a Sharjah wicket that has got slower with every match. But de Villiers smoked 73 runs off 33 balls without ever struggling for timing.
It was the kind of innings that even astounded RCB skipper Virat Kohli.
“It was unbelievable,” said Kohli in the post-match chat. “I thought I had a few balls under the belt and I might start striking. But he came in and the third ball he drove past the bowler, that just rocketed off the bat. He said afterwards, he felt great.”
Kohli added: “But I just have to say that a lot of players can do what you’ve seen in the other games but on a pitch like that, to bat like that, it is only AB who can do that just because of the way he sets up and how still his head is. He is seeing the ball clearly and is so dangerous because he can wait for the slower balls and deposit them out of the stadium. It was a special knock.”
After coming in to bat in the 13th over, AB De Villers chose a mode of attack that only special batsman can. Everyone from Aaron Finch at the start of the innings to Kohli were trying to go to the ball in order to generate some pace and momentum. But the South African went the old school way.
He waited and relied on the power of timing to make the impact. And because he waited, the variations of the fast bowlers became that much less effective. Of course, not everyone can do this... not everyone could have done it on this particular pitch.
Kohli knew because even though he ran hard during his 28-ball 33, he had only one four in his knock and that too was an edge that went the boundary in the third man region. By the end, the RCB skipper was looking to just turn the strike over to de Villiers.
The 100-run stand between Kohli and De Villiers came off 46 legal deliveries. And Kohli let De Villiers face 33 of those balls. That, too, was smart cricket.
After 10 overs, RCB were 78/1
After 15 overs, RCB were 111/2
After 20 overs, RCB were 194/2
RCB scored 83 runs off the last five overs.
Once RCB managed to reach 194/2, KKR knew they in for an uphill battle. The early wickets didn’t help. If anything, it just put De Villiers’ innings into perspective.
“AB is a world-class player,” said KKR skipper Dinesh Karthik. “He is hard to stop. He was the difference between the two teams. We tried everything. The only ball was the perfect inswinging yorker. Anything else was going.”
And when faced with such a barrage, the bowlers ran out of ideas. Big-hitters like Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell have areas they target, players like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli don’t have the unorthodox shots to make bowlers second guess and de Villiers has no such restrictions; indeed... he has no restrictions of any kind.
After the match, AB de Villiers said: “I am very happy with my performance. That’s all I can say. I got a duck last game, that is a terrible feeling. I am very happy that I contributed. I surprised myself today, to be honest. We were headed towards 140-150, and I thought I might try for 160-165, but I was surprised we reached 195. The margins are very small when Cummins and Russell are running in, and you need to use every bit of energy in you to keep the momentum going. I felt that energy in the bus already.”