TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IF you’ve tuned in to coverage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) these past seven weeks and not seen AB de Villiers putting some hapless attack to the sword, don’t go buying any lottery tickets.
De Villiers owns the highest score in the tournament – an undefeated 129 smashed off 52 balls – and the best strike rate, 170.07, among batsmen who have had at least 10 innings. Only Virat Kohli and David Warner have scored more runs than De Villiers’ total of 682.
Better yet, the South African has done all that with the kind of verve that has made him stand out. And that despite sharing the spotlight with Kohli, who would hog the headlines even if he got out for nought every time. Instead, he has drilled four centuries in 15 innings.
But whereas Kohli broods malevolently at the crease, as if his every stroke is meant to exact revenge on all those who ever dared doubt his greatness, De Villiers bats with the sheer joy of being alive. As much as he dazzles us, it’s difficult to believe he isn’t also dazzling himself.
Even so, South Africans watching from afar will feel conflicted. It’s wonderful that one of their own is performing so well. But how come he isn’t the same AB fab quite so often when he plays for SA?
The question comes in the shadow of De Villiers reaching 50 only five times in the 20 innings he has had for SA since the start of England’s tour in December.
A 20% success rate from someone so outrageously gifted doesn’t cut the mustard, especially when he then blazes six half-centuries and a century in 15 innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In mitigation, for all the flash and dash of the IPL the tournament’s playing standards are significantly below international level.
India’s docile limited overs pitches, small outfields and white-ball cricket’s punitive bowling regulations tip the balance further in batsmen’s favour.
But there will nonetheless be extra eyes on De Villiers when he takes guard for SA in their triangular series in the Caribbean, which starts next week. Some of those eyes will be in his own dressingroom.
“I think any team is blessed to have AB in the side,” Farhaan Behardien said before the members of SA’s squad who are not playing in the IPL jetted off on Wednesday. “Any pressure that is on him is from the outside and just a perception.”
However, even De Villiers needs a little help from his friends …
“Whether he performs or not the rest of the guys have to stand up,” Behardien said. “AB is only human. Just. We need to take the pressure off him – that’s when he plays his best cricket.”
The other side of that coin is that De Villiers is going to have to show he still holds the national cause dear having failed to deny rumours in December that he was considering retirement.
“It’s always been the most important thing for me to enjoy my cricket,” he said then. “It’s just important to look at the schedule moving forward. That’s the talk in the camp, and for me maybe not to play all kind of cricket.
“If I play all the IPL games, the whole season, I do get a bit tired towards the end of the season.”
Fat chance. As SA team manager Mohammed Moosajee said on Wednesday: AB has committed himself to play all formats. Unless he has an injury I don’t think they are going to rest him at this moment.”