South Africa had just won their first knockout match in a World Cup in the most comprehensive way possible, humiliating Sri Lanka in the process.
The time had come. South Africa were slated to play against New Zealand. Both sides had not played a final in the quadrennial event. Both sides were at their very best. To say that the match at Eden Park on the fruitful night of March the 24th of 2015 was one of the very best would be an understatement.
South Africa looked different right from the first ball. They lost Hashim Amla relatively early at 21-1 and in came Faf Du Plessis. Soon enough, another wicket fell.
The Kiwis had their tails up. Du Plessis and Rossouw revived the Proteas’ innings only for it to be shortened by 7 overs. Some late carnage by David Miller and AB De Villiers set the home side 298 runs to win in 43 overs, at a run rate of less than 7 runs per over.
Brendon McCullum tore apart every bowler he faced over the course of the tournament. The first two balls bowled by Steyn to the Kiwi Captain were dot balls. Then, the inevitable happened. A six off Steyn began the proceedings and he raced off to 58 in no time. It was a six that really started the Kiwi Innings, and it was a six, this time from Johannesburg-born Grant Elliot, again off Dale Steyn, that ended the hopes for the South Africans.
The Sun had set. The horizon looked more beautiful on one side. While one camp was erupting in joy, the other was sunk in agony.
In between all the drama that unfolded, AB De Villiers, the South African Captain - scorer of the fastest century in International Cricket - had to give a press conference.
De Villiers blamed the loss on himself.
31.2 overs were completed; 186 balls to be precise. The next, delivered by Dale Steyn, probably decided the fate of the match. Elliot pushed it to point and Corey Anderson called for a run only to realize his act of foolishness. But that enlightenment seemed to come a bit too late as the ball was on its way back to give him the long walk. Even before he caught it properly, de Villiers removed the bails. Now, he had to remove a stump off the ground to have any chance of sending the dangerous Anderson back. He didn’t. Rather, he couldn’t. Anderson went on to score a crucial 24 runs as New Zealand progressed.
He was lying there, in silence, in agony, in distraught, in pain, in anguish, in despair.
Abraham Benjamin De Villiers.
“A batsman of breathtaking chutzpah and enterprise, as well as the skills and the temperament required to back up his creative intent. A fielder able to leap tall buildings and still come up with the catch. A wicketkeeper who is perfectly at ease donning pads and gloves. A fine rugby player, golfer, and tennis player. All AB de Villiers needs to show off his abundant gifts is a ball. Just about any ball.”
That is a shortened version of his Cricinfo profile.
Words don’t suffice to describe talents such as AB de Villiers. Players such as de Villiers just don’t turn up often; possibly one in a million, or maybe once in a generation, or possibly, never again. And we, as viewers and aficionados, mustn’t cringe due to his inexplicable shot making; instead, we must savor the moments. Savor due to the fact that there aren’t many cricketers out there who can hit a Lasith Malinga yorker on leg stump for a boundary over extra cover while on the back foot.
De Villiers has played most of his cricket in an age where creative shot making is the need of the hour. The T20 craze coupled with franchisees offering millions have ensured that batsmen who have the requisites to be the match winners are often given special attention and players such as De Villiers are in the highest echelons when it comes to modern day batting.
He is someone who can play 360 degrees if not more. Many cricketers have the ability to play more than a single shot for the same delivery. Some possess the power to smash any ball out of the ground. Some have the ability to play long innings and help the team salvage a draw in case of a test. Then, there is AB de Villiers.
We saw De Villiers in his element earlier this year as he broke the record for the fastest century in One Day Internationals, smashing the West Indian bowlers all around the park and reached his century in a mere 31 deliveries.
It wasn’t like any ordinary innings.
He slaughtered the bowlers.
No, he butchered them.
On days like that, Abraham Benjamin De Villiers looks unstoppable. Just by sheer brute force and creative stroke making, de Villiers tore up the opposition. Many might lament that it was against the West Indians, a side that have an average bowling line up at their best.
Let us go back to May 5th of 2014, shall we? Just a little over a year ago, De Villiers played one of the greatest T20 innings. There have been many other instances wherein a player has scored faster or has scored more, but the manner in which De Villiers carted the bowlers and the situation which was at hand ensures that the whirlwind 89 not out that the South African scored on the fruitful day stands heads and shoulders above its competitors.
Chasing 156 runs to win, the RCB were reeling at 95 runs for the loss of 5 wickets with southpaw Yuvraj Singh the latest dismissal. There was only one way that the RCB could’ve won the match and it required a De Villiers special. And the man from Pretoria duly delivered.
Much like the assault against the West Indians earlier this year, De Villiers was rampant. But, unlike the West Indian bowling, the Sunrisers Hyderabad had a more than decent attack with the likes of Dale Steyn, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Darren Sammy and Ishant Sharma in their ranks.
With a couple of overs to go and the RCB requiring 28 runs off the last two overs, captain Shikhar Dhawan handed the ball to Dale Steyn, one of the greatest pacemen to grace the game. What followed was no less than something one would see in a Bollywood potboiler!
Ball 1: De Villiers hits Steyn over Square Leg for a six!
Ball 2: This time, De Villiers hit it down the ground, again, for a maximum…
Two balls and two singles later,
A four, this time over long off.
If the battering wasn’t embarrassing enough for Steyn, the last ball again disappeared. This time for a six scooped. Words can’t describe the massacre effected by De Villiers that day.
The current generation possesses some great stroke makers such as Hashim Amla, Virat Kohli, Steven Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson amongst others.
The previous decade had the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, VVS Laxman, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara. But, none can compare to De Villiers.
One would state that ‘X’ (With X being a cricketer of your choice) scored more runs than ABD. But, Hey!
The last 20 years or so has seen the transformation of cricket like none before. The advent of T20 cricket has ensured that old school batting doesn’t get you anywhere. And players such as De Villiers are products of this generation- someone who can play a shot behind the keeper as well as the shot over extra cover.
De Villiers is in a whole different league altogether when compared to the abovementioned. And the league consists of De Villiers and De Villiers alone.
He has become Mr. Dependable for both club and country.
Want to save a test? Bring in De Villiers.
Want to win from a situation that few would dare to take on? Bring in De Villiers.
Starc, Steyn, Johnson and Anderson in the opposition attack? Bring in De Villiers.
That says it all, doesn’t it?
I would like to sum it up by saying this.
AB De Villiers is not someone ordinary. He is an amalgamation of certain qualities taken from the Greats from overs the years. He has the audacity of a Virender Sehwag. He possesses the athleticism of a Jonty Rhodes. He is a free flowing stroke maker like a Ricky Ponting. He has the creativity that no single batsman in the past or the present can boast of.
The plethora of applauses after a De Villiers special doesn’t suffice for the talent that he really is.
He isn’t ordinary.
He is a freak.
He is a freakish delight.