TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
WHO is the impostor in jersey number 17 for Royal Challengers Bangalore and what has he done with AB de Villiers?
It’s a question Bangalore fans will have asked themselves several times during this year’s edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
De Villiers raised his bat to celebrate a half-century three times in his first eight innings of last year’s tournament. Eight knocks into this year’s IPL he has cracked just one 50.
And that after he lit up the World Cup with a century and three half-centuries in seven innings to finish second in the averages and third on the runscoring charts.
His pyrotechnic 162 not out off 66 balls against West Indies in Sydney was unarguably the innings of the tournament and among the greatest yet played in pyjamas. A useful attack given a decently paced pitch and one of the bigger outfields in the game failed to dent De Villiers’ intent that day/night: he was bent on hitting the ball higher, wider and handsomer than anyone else dared, and he did.
Back in Bangalore the locals would have watched De Villiers’ dazzling display in keen anticipation. If he could do that to those opponents what havoc would he wreak on India’s small grounds and flatter pitches against attacks that often feature bowlers who seem to have been selected on their ability to be hit for six?
So far, not a lot. Worse yet, De Villiers has managed to be dismissed in distinctly un-AB fashion.
For one of the fastest, cleverest runners between the wickets to be run out twice in two completed innings – a fate De Villiers has indeed suffered at the IPL – is fodder for quizz compilers.
Ditto the fact that this flashiest of footwork fetishists has also been out stumped. And that two of his innings have been ended by a pair of 21-year-olds called Jasprit Bumrah and KC Cariappa. Who? Exactly.
But, according to another player who spent much of career carrying a disproportionate share of the load for a team’s performance, De Villiers should be cut some slack.
“It’s impossible to play the way he does every time you come to the wicket, but that’s what the expectation is,” Lance Klusener said on Monday.
“He plays very high risk cricket and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Someone in a faraway town sees him play like that on television and when AB comes to town he pays his money for his ticket and he expects to see AB play like that. And when he doesn’t everybody starts looking for reasons.”
Could one of those reasons be SA’s exit from the World Cup on March 24, which was as dramatic on the field as it was behind the scenes what with a selection controversy on the boil?
“It will definitely be in the back of a lot of their minds,” Klusener said. “It takes time to digest something like that and get over it and they just haven’t had the opportunity.”
Klusener knows of whence he speaks having been involved in the calamitous runout that tied SA’s 1999 World Cup semi-final against Australia and denied Hansie Cronje’s team a place in the final.
In his 85 one-day innings for SA after that match Klusener scored a century and nine half-centuries, three of them against the Aussies.
De Villiers will be the same magnificent player he was a month or two ago, but he could need longer than that to get there.