TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
Pundits who have been calling for AB de Villiers to bat higher up the order at the World T20 will feel vindicated by his performance in SA’s rousing victory over England in Chittagong on Saturday.
Perhaps they should not. De Villiers, who scored an unbeaten 69 as SA surged into the semi-finals with a three-run win, did take guard at No. 3 – one place higher than in his other three innings in the group stage of the tournament – but he came to the crease as late or later than he has done in the competition.
De Villiers arrived after 10.5 overs on Saturday, exactly the same stage of the innings as when he made 24 against Sri Lanka. Moreover, when he came to the wicket after 4.6 and 4.3 overs against New Zealand and the Netherlands respectively, he was out for five and 21.
“I’m not sure if it’s about the position you bat in,” De Villiers said on Saturday. “I came in after the 10th over, which is what the coaching staff have been pushing for me to do. They enjoy me batting in those situations. That’s probably why they’re leaving me at (No.) 4, or somewhere around that batting position.”
Bang, then, goes the theory that SA get the best out of De Villiers the earlier he is unleashed. Or does it?
He has batted at No. 3 in 16 of his 56 T20s and at No. 4 in 28. De Villiers has scored five half-centuries – three from No. 4 and the other two as a No. 3. He has made those 50s having started his innings after 4.6, 9.6, 8.3, 4.4 and 10.5 overs.
De Villiers’ pyrotechnic performance on Saturday, when he set a record for the fastest half-century scored by a South African in the format by reaching the milestone off 23 balls, was thus the latest he has arrived at the crease and gone on to make 50.
Clearly, there is more to T20 success than these simple stats. Less easily quantifiable factors like conditions, match situations and quality of opposition must also be considered.
But Saturday’s match might not have ended happily for SA. The dangerous Alex Hales, whose 116 not out against Sri Lanka on Thursday was the first T20 century scored by an Englishman, was caught at point off Albie Morkel for nine in the second over on Saturday.
Only for umpire Rod Tucker to signal no-ball. Replays suggested Morkel had grounded his heel behind the crease, and had therefore legally dismissed Hales. That produced a moment of quick thinking by De Villiers.
“I asked (Tucker) to maybe have a look upstairs,” De Villiers said. “He said, sorry, but he had already made the decision. It was too late.
“I knew what the answer was going to be before I asked the question. I wanted to waste a bit of time because the boys were a little bit upset. I wanted to slow things down and reset and go again.”
De Villiers, who stood in as captain because Faf du Plessis was suspended after SA incurred a second penalty in 12 months for a slow over rate in a T20, achieved exactly that.
Hales, meanwhile, was dismissed – again – for 38 in the eighth over.