One look at the scorecard of the Pakistan vs South Africa game and you would think that AB de Villiers, with his spectacular knock of 77 from 58, was the lone warrior for South Africa. That he did everything to try to win the game for his country.
But if you saw the game live, you would know that the story was something very different. In the last decade, we have seen MS Dhoni chase down such targets with a calm head many a times. In comparison, you can see that AB de Villiers made a lot of mistakes, and is at least partly to blame for the loss. Given that he is the best batsman in South Africa, not to mention the world, one would expect him to play more sensibly. He was thoughtless in his approach and South Africa’s chase was a recipe for disaster.
SA was reduced to 102 for 6 in 19.4 overs, and they were a fair way away from the target of 232 (once again they curse Duckworth-Lewis). The required run rate was well under 5 RPO.
AB de Villiers committed 3 mistakes. Let us look at each one of them in detail.
1. He gave the bulk of the strike to the tail-enders. Unless the tail-enders are confident of facing the bowlers, this should never be done. The Pakistani bowlers were bowling well and were clearly able to trouble the tail-enders. In similar scenarios, typically Dhoni would avoid this unless the he is confident of the tail-enders’ ability to face the bowlers. He generally sees whether the tail-enders are able to face up to the bowlers. If they can't, he farms and takes the bulk of the strike.
2. Going after quick runs with the tail-enders. This led to them getting out quickly. When you have overs to spare this was never needed. Given the small ground at Auckland, even 10 RPO in final 10 overs is very chaseable. Dhoni does this, evaluating the situation and going after the bowling himself, not exposing the tail-enders.
3. Not making use of all the overs. The biggest mistake of them all. Not evaluating the game. South Africa got all out in 33.3 overs with 30 runs to get in 13.3 overs. Sohail Khan and Shahid Afridi were struggling on that day. They had bowled 5 overs each, and their combined figures read 10-0-64-1. Attack the weaker bowlers and play out the tougher ones. Sounds simple enough, right? But AB de Villiers had other ideas. Misbah was bowling his best bowlers, whom AB attacked. Dhoni is often criticized for taking the game till the end, but he doesn’t target the better bowlers. He waits for the weaker bowlers and backs himself to put them under pressure and win the game.
AB de Villiers is a good player but he isn't a great chaser in ODIs yet. If he keeps up with this approach in high pressure chases, he probably never will become one.