TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
AB de Villiers deserves – and receives – plenty of credit for SA’s success. But he is also the target of backhanded whispers: that he arrives at the crease once the hard work has been done, that he has lots of flair but not enough fight, that he is a man for the treetops but not the trenches.
At Newlands on Sunday, De Villiers delivered compelling evidence to the contrary.
He walked to the wicket with SA deep in a trench on 22/3. Reaching their target of 237 to win the match and with it their one-day series against England would require much hard work and a fight of no mean proportions.
The undefeated 101 De Villiers scored fitted the hand SA needed to play like a boxing glove. Along with Hashim Amla’s 59 and the stand of 125 the pair shared, it took SA to victory in a series they would have lost had they not reeled off a hat-trick of victories.
“It’s taken me years to feel comfortable in pressure situations like that, and I’m starting to feel like I have good composure in those situations,” De Villiers said.
“It’s something I’m really proud of – the composure I had when the game was on the line.”
So he should be. It’s one thing to walk on the imported air of genius to take your team to victory, quite another to put in the graft that doesn’t chime with the way you prefer to play and still grab the glory.
But De Villiers’ moment of truth wasn’t the only reason SA rose from their near-death experience of being 2-0 down in the series.
Another was the decision to relieve JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien of the fifth bowler’s ration of overs after those first two games. Step up, instead, David Wiese and Chris Morris, who were more economical and more threatening.
They were also worth their weight in allrounders’ gold. Morris’ hard-hit 62 was why SA won at the Wanderers on Friday, while Wiese’s 41 not out was an important part of the equation at Newlands.
“It helps a lot,” De Villiers said of being able to bank on Wiese’s and Morris’ twin talents. “Dave and Chris have definitely added a different dimension, and change was needed after the first two ODIs. They really breathed the fresh air of confidence into the side.”
However, confidence amounts to little without consistency. SA simply had to keep winning to resolve the doubts that would have crept in after they lost the first two games – which themselves followed defeat in test series against England and in India.
Seldom in the modern era had SA’s fortunes ebbed so low. So the drama of the one-wicket win at the Wanderers might have been too much to bear.
“After an emotional game like that it’s very easy to lose your fighting spirit in a big game like this (at Newlands) only two days after that,” De Villiers said. “That was my message to the guys – keep the fighting spirit, keep the attitude, keep the body language.”
And keep the trophy.