South Africa, have for long been one imposing and truly talented side in World Cricket. They are known to play not just hard but extremely positive cricket. In a sport that leverages on the essentials of team work, shines on merits of leadership and whose spirit is lifted by battling it hard in the middle, the opponents facing this cricket side have almost always had to work really hard if they are to consider any plausible chances of upsetting this dangerous side. At times, it seems that the format of the game doesn't quite matter to the South Africans, for theirs is a completely different approach toward playing a game, and let's face it- unless gods aren't in their favour- then losing, a sight you don't usually associate with their on-field performance, only just happens on a blue moon and is in no way- a constant. South African cricket has had its fair share of stars who have burnt brightly carrying the seemingly inexhaustible flame of their sport to all parts of the world where cricket lights faces and bonds people like no other sport does. From the period that the team was barred from playing cricket to the time that they have come to be recognized as the most consistent side in world cricket, across formats, times have changed significantly and so has the league of their extraordinary talents. Cricket itself has come to be personified as more of a star driven sport where commercial trappings and the attraction toward making huge sums of money have often resulted in back-seating the love for playing together as a unit.
With Australia perhaps coming closest to being identified as the near perfect rival to the "Rainbow Nation", there haven't been many teams that have matched the levels of skill, performances and the commitment on the ground as greatly as inimitable South Africa. India, off course is an exception who by virtue of having raised their game over the last 6 years or more are comprehended as a big threat by all cricket playing nations. But, internationally, cricket still has been driven by individual stand out performers and stars rather than being touted as a sport that transcends geographies, known just by a particular cricketing nation. With South Africa things are different. Always known to play as a well-rounded, cohesive unit, there cannot be a better example to demonstrate how triumphs are woven by team spirit. Whether it was the controversial but highly effective Hansie Cronje era where batting and bowling might of the team together dusted oppositions everywhere, thanks to the geniuses of Kirsten, Pollock, Donald, Dippenaar, Ntini and Gibbs or the hugely successful Graeme Smith era where the Kallis', Morkel', Steyn', Botha' and the Philander' have handed burning heat to the opposition, South Africa have excelled singularly due to the merit of their combined geniuses.
If the era from the 1990s-2006 was largely reminiscent of the glowing legends of Sachin and Lara on one hand and that of Jayasuriya, Sangakkara or Ponting on the other, then it can be said that the period following that has largely belonged to a certain Abraham de Villiers, the supremely gifted Pretoria born superstar of South African cricket. He is easily the finest batting talent to have risen in world cricket in the last decade or so. This could be debated by putting arguments of other batsmen who score at a better rate or may have conjured more number of tons or runs than AB, but purely on the merit of batting consistency, there is no star that can be regarded as a cricketing luminary, while he is still playing and is far from hanging his boots yet.
Abraham de Villiers, at 31, has caught not only a number of fine catches, be it from the slips or as the effective wicket-keeper who guards the wickets whilst allowing his side to include an additional specialist bowler or batsman, he has captured international attention owing to his selfless ways of exhibiting cricketing talent. A technically correct batsman who seems to possess a fine repertoire of classic cricketing strokes on both sides of the wicket, he has fine-tuned his batting craft to aid his side in a number of ways. A fast accumulator of runs in the middle, he can also take his own time to settle down in the middle at the loss of crucial early wickets. With Abraham de Villiers' ever dependable name holding on the balance of the middle order, the top order bats freely knowing that the able statesman can come in and burst into an exciting stroke-play to strengthen the side and the lower order is relieved knowing that the batsman coming in ahead has already laid a potent platform on which to construct a big total. There are few capable batsmen remaining in limited over's cricket who have in them to change the scenario of their side almost singlehandedly and de Villiers' remarkable ability to paint lasting geniuses on South Africa's cricket hungry palette is a testimony to his growing fame and unquestionable talent. His recent routing of the men from the Caribbean during his world record knock of 149 off 44 deliveries back in South Africa, was a clear indication of his ruthless big hitting ability and a dangerous warning sent immediately to all rival teams preparing to enter the World Cup 2015. The 19 well complied ODI hundreds and 43 fifties have been scored at a hefty strike rate of 97. de Villiers' astonishing ability to compile runs in all templates of international cricket have even made him a threatening star in test match cricket. He has 21 hundreds and 36 fifties with some of the finest knocks coming against powerful oppositions like India, Australia and Pakistan. AB enjoyed the highest individual test score of 278 versus Pakistan, a knock that was the highest registered test score by a South African batsman in a single inning and one which was bettered by fellow compatriot Amla who scored a triple ton months later.
AB de Villiers' performance in last one year (i.e. 17th Feb 2014 to 17th Feb 2015)
Seldom do we have players like de Villiers who are not only considered a major threat from the opponent camp but also a figure of great regard and respect, and due to his gentlemanly nature and clean spirited play, the smiling master bat from South Africa has been amongst the avidly followed and most popular icons of modern day cricket. You can be anyone and a player of any stature, but you wouldn't possibly want to present an unpleasant offering to the gifted right hander. With over 15000 runs collected from both formats of the game at a young age of 31, there are lesser chances of AB's legend ever growing old. Featuring in a side that had a Kallis and a Smith, AB can attribute his batting legend to his prowess at the art of applying resolve and commitment in a silent undertone that today speaks volumes about his popularity. What perfectly complements his beautiful batting is the grounded modesty with which AB approaches and leaves playing an inning.
Some of the memorable knocks have come at crucial junctures for his home side with the fate of the game lying broadly on the genius of his batting. On one hand while he literally massacred the Indian bowling attack during his breathtaking test knock of 217 at Ahmedabad early in his career, he snatched victory for the Proteas from the jaws of defeat by staying on for 220 deliveries and scoring a brave 33 during a nail biting encounter at Adelaide. The despondency of the opposition at times translates into an endless frustration for a batsman of de Villiers' class becomes immovable from the crease. The elegant on drive lifts the hopes of the fans just as much as the immaculate pull and the muscular heave over mid wicket.
Carrying the responsibility of scoring dutifully for South Africa is an honour that lifts de Villiers like no other and in doing so he has firmly secured his name amongst the most lethal batsmen in world cricket alongside Chris Gayle, Michael Clarke, Virat Kohli and Brendon McCullum. Rather than depending on patchy brilliance, AB relies on effective consistency and it is this facet that has elevated his stature to being among the world's best bat from being a handy scorer. A skilled performer who confronts pace bowling with a brave heart playing freely sans pressure, he can innovatively bring clever variations in his game depending on changing scenarios. The scoop over the keeper's head is a constant feature in his stellar show and the surprising reverse sweep can often daze opposition leaving them scratchy with too much to think for. Whatever may be the plans of the best bowling attacks in the world at targeting AB's defence, world cricket is yet to see a chink in the armour of this batting great, who elevates the status of the game by his mere presence in the middle of it. The walk into the sunset is at a distant mile and till the time AB occupies the crease in the middle, South African cricket seems to be batting on a winning wicket.