TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
HAMBANTOTA lay 7 326 kilometres clear across the Indian Ocean to the north-east from Port Elizabeth, where the first one-day international between South Africa and Sri Lanka was played on Saturday.
But, for AB de Villiers, those disparate dots on the globe were connected by the St George’s Park pitch.
“The conditions reminded me a bit of a Sri Lankan pitch that we played on not long ago, so we really had to adapt well in the beginning,” De Villiers said.
“I was quite worried that their spinners were going to play a big role in the second half of the game. I knew we had to bowl them out for less than 250 in order to stay in the game.
“So I thought we batted really well, the new-ball bowlers asked the right questions, and then (Imran Tahir) opened it up very nicely for everyone to have a fantastic fielding session.”
Which Sri Lankan pitch was De Villiers talking about?
“In Hambantota the (pitch for the) deciding game was actually worse than this.”
That was in July 2014, when De Villiers led South Africa to victory by 82 runs to clinch their first ODI series win on the Asian island.
“I definitely used some of those experiences in the field with some of my field placings and the plans for the bowlers.
“It’s always nice to draw back to an experience like that now that I’m so old.”
De Villiers turns 33 on February 17. So, hardly old.
But he does have a wealth of the experience he spoke of, and that helped South Africa earn a comprehensive victory – by eight wickets with 94 balls to spare – on Saturday.
An example of De Villiers’ putting his knowledge to good use was how he marshalled his bowlers on a unusually blustery day, even by PE standards.
“It was something we touched on before we went out to play,” he said.
“I alluded to the wind conditions – that we don’t use the strong winds as an excuse but rather use it to our advantage, which we did.
“I thought we used it really well at times, we made them hit into the wind a lot and it paid off.”
And how. Wayne Parnell and Imran Tahir took three wickets each as Sri Lanka crashed to 181 all out.
Half-centuries by Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, with support from Quinton de Kock and De Villiers, was all South Africa needed to strike the first blow in the series.
“‘Immi’ is probably in the best kind of form that I’ve ever seen,” De Villiers said.
“He doesn’t bowl bad balls anymore. He always used to take wickets but (now) you don’t see bad balls, which makes him really difficult to play.”
How much might the leg spinner, who turns 38 in March, have left in the tank?
“The way he celebrates he looks like he could play for another 10 years,” De Villiers said. “Let’s hope we have him for as long as possible.
“Obviously the Champions Trophy (in England in June) is the first thing I can think of.
“Hopefully he’ll be there, and maybe he’ll push it for another two years after that.”
But, right now, De Villiers was more sharply focused on the second game of the rubber at Kingsmead on Wednesday.
“It’s a completely different game, it’s a new-ball game and we’ll go there with a fresh mind.
“It’s not like we’ve won a series already. There’s still a lot to work for and a lot to achieve in this series.”