What’s in a number when De Villiers delivers?

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

AB de Villiers and Russell Domingo need to talk. Or so it would seem in the afterglow of De Villiers’ 133 not out in an Indian Premier League (IPL) match on Sunday.

“From the day I started playing T20 cricket I always wanted to bat in the top three and I am very thankful for the fact that Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) has given me the chance to bat at three now,” De Villiers was quoted as saying by the IPL’s website.

That’s a departure from what Domingo said after last year’s World T20: “It’s not the position he bats in (that matters) it’s the situation of the game. AB will be the first to admit that he is a better player when then game is set up for him.”

No longer apparently. De Villiers walked to the middle against Mumbai Indians on Sunday in the fourth over with 20 runs on the board. He and Virat Kohli then added 215 in an unbroken stand in which the runs flowed at more than a dozen to the over.

De Villiers has come in at the fall of the first wicket in 16 of his 54 innings for SA in the T20 format. But in exactly half of his trips to the crease he has batted at No. 4, where he has faced 465 deliveries out of a total of 804. At No. 3 he has a strike rate of 121.39. That goes up to 125.59 when he comes in at No. 4.

So far so inconclusive, as is the fact that he has scored two of his five T20 half-centuries for SA when he has taken guard in the second half of the innings.

But it bears noting that Sunday’s feat bumped De Villiers’ average at No. 3 for RCB this season up to 102.33. He has not been dismissed in half of his six innings there and he has forged past 40 four times. Both times he has reached 50 he has come in at first drop. In his other innings De Villiers has scored 14, 41 and 28 at No. 4 and 46 at No. 5. And when De Villiers scored 57 against Rajasthan Royals he was summoned to the crease four balls into the innings.

Former selector Enver Mall tried to cut a swathe of sense through the swirl of statistics. “In T20 cricket for lots of teams where a player bats is about the stage of the innings rather than the number he bats at,” Mall said on Monday.

“It’s impossible to say whether AB is better at No. 3 or No. 5 because unlike in first-class cricket, where you can nail positions down, T20 is very fluid. Where a player bats depends on team tactics and teams use all sorts of permutations.”

But there is no confusion about what De Villiers’ performance on Sunday says about the bigger picture in the wake of the drama of SA’s defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals in March.

De Villiers was a tear-soaked mess after that match in Auckland, and his first few innings in the IPL were those of a player whose mind was elsewhere. Now he is focused and back to his blitzing best.

Where or when he bats matters much less than that.

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