“No way... no, no way. You CANNOT do that.”

Those were Nasser Hussain’s iconic lines when Ben Stokes leaped into the air at deep midwicket and completed a one-handed stunner at the 2019 World Cup. The former England captain’s lines pretty much summed up the awe with which onlookers reacted to that moment of genius from Stokes. It was beyond logic. Superhuman.

Those lines would have been perfect for describing what AB de Villiers did on the opening night of Indian Premier League when Royal Challengers Bangalore overcame Mumbai Indians in a thriller in Chennai on Friday.

The equivalent of that Stokes catch in the World Cup 2019 opener, came in the 19th over of RCB’s innings in the IPL 2021 opener.

Nineteen runs are needed off 12 balls. Jasprit Bumrah, the best in the world at what he does, comes streaming in. He is so good at defending these situations. He puts the pressure on batsmen with dot balls, if not wickets. He thrives here. He bowls a 141.4kph low full toss. Not quite the perfect yorker, but still a difficult to put away for most batsmen.

‘Peerless’, ‘genius’: Reactions to AB de Villiers’ brilliant knock against MI in IPL 2021 opener

But de Villiers is not most batsmen. He clears his front leg, perhaps already expecting what Bumrah is going to deliver. Anticipation. He gets his bat down at the perfect moment. Bat speed. He hits it over cover and sends the ball within inches of the boundary rope. Almost a six.

Breathtaking. You cannot do that. Not to Bumrah, not to that delivery, not where he hit it, not when he has been out of action for so long.

A couple of deliveries later, he anticipates a short-of-length ball and ramps it over short-third man. In between those two shots, he scampered between the wickets for two. Mind you, he kept wickets for 20 overs earlier in the night.

At 106/5 after 15 overs, with both Maxwell and Kohli back in the pavilion, de Villiers played a helicopter-esque cut through cover for four and then a lofted six over long off, to bring the equation down from 54 off 30 to 44 off 28. Two deliveries, two sensational shots, and the required rate came back down to manageable levels. Just like that, he kept releasing the pressure when Mumbai Indians threatened to take the upper hand.

Rustiness affects the best in the business. Players will tell you they kept themselves sharp when not in action. Gym sessions, treadmills, simulations, batting practice... what not. But, in the match, in the heat of a run-chase, with the game on the line, even batters who are in the best of form will struggle to connect as well as de Villiers did.

Batting in a competitive game of cricket for the first time since the end of IPL 2020, de Villiers did what de Villiers can as he played an innings that defied logic to, once again, take his team home in a close match. Make no mistake, Harshal Patel was sensational and probably deserved the player of the match award for his five-wicket haul and hitting the winning runs. But without ABD’s genius RCB were not getting over the finish line. With his innings of 48 off 27 balls, de Villiers rescued the match for his side.

“Assessed the conditions, gave himself time at the start like you needed to on that wicket. And just went about doing AB things. Some of the shots he plays has the boys in awe. He’s class. I don’t think he’s played a game in like four months, for him to come out tonight like that is pretty special,” Maxwell said in a post-match video posted by RCB.

“AB is probably the only player in our team who is so versatile. And he can do what did on slow wickets which a lot of other people find it difficult to execute,” was how Kohli put it in the post-match presentation. Kohli’s description after one such innings in IPL 2020 was to call him “Alien De Villiers” and that felt apt again at the end of this match. By most human metrics, it is not possible to do what the South African did.

When de Villiers does what he does, the sense of awe is not just for those watching from the stands or through their television sets. It is evident in the dressing room, too. When, as an athlete, earning such admiration of your peers and teammates, is the mark of true genius. That, more than anything, is why Abraham Benjamin de Villiers remains a generational superstar.

Watch highlights of de Villiers’ innings here.