Just in time, De Villiers rediscovers his smile

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

BOTH were dismissed for ducks in their previous innings in the Champions Trophy, but that’s where the comparisons between AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli hit a wall.

De Villiers’ other effort in the tournament begrudged him four runs. Kohli’s brought him an undefeated 81.

And here De Villiers and Kohli are on Sunday, captaining South Africa and India in a do-or-die game at The Oval: the winners advance to the semi-finals, the losers are out.

Body language experts might read something into Kohli ascending the podium for his press conference on Saturday with a sprightly hop, skip and jump.

At De Villiers’ presser, no expertise was needed to see that he had remembered to wear something we had not seen from him for more than a week: a smile.

Where had it been?

Lost, perhaps, in the emotional tumble-drier of being part of South Africa’s team at a major tournament.

“It’s important for us to make sure we focus on why we’ve been successful over the last while, and we’ve played with really good energy in both [Champions Trophy] games,” De Villiers said.

“I felt the guys were really hungry to succeed and unfortunately came unstuck in that last game [in Birmingham on Wednesday, when Pakistan won by 19 runs].

“So I’m expecting the same kind of intensity and hunger out there tomorrow but with a relaxed mindset.

“I think that’s really important, to remember we are playing a game of cricket — something that we love doing — and to get that smile on our faces out there.

“I’ll try and lead that from the front.”

De Villiers suffered his only first-baller in 212 one-day innings on Wednesday. Surely that’s no reason to smile?

“I’m still in good form, still hitting the ball well,” he said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.

“There’s nothing I can say here that’s going to change anything except for that I still believe I can and hopefully I’ll prove that tomorrow.”

De Villiers’ suitability as captain, too, has been questioned.

“I think my captaincy is pretty good,” he said, almost surprised. “We lost the last game, so that’s never ideal for a captain.

“But I understand what I’m trying to do out there and I’m really enjoying the captaincy; I think I make some good calls.

“But, yeah, the pencil’s in your hand, and I can’t control what you’re going to write but in my mind I’m a good captain.”

Minutes earlier De Villiers had been offered support from a man who, for a few weeks of the year, is his teammate.

“I empathise with him,” Kohli, who shares a Royal Challengers Bangalore dressingroom with De Villiers in the Indian Premier League, said. “I go through this a lot as well.

“When you have set standards for yourself [and don’t meet them] people get shocked.

“He’s by far the most committed cricketer I’ve ever seen. He’s trying to do something extra for his team and that’s the kind of character he’s always been.

“I know AB quite well, so I know the reason behind his mindset of playing like that.

“But … when he’s in the right frame of mind and it’s his day and he’s in the mood, then it doesn’t matter what he’s done in the past games or how many runs he’s scored or not scored.

“If he decides to play the way only he can, you know you have to find a way to get him out pretty quickly.”

Kohli was detained as he attempted to leave by a phalanx of autograph hunters. They doubled as Indian reporters.

De Villiers rose and exited unaccosted. And smiling.

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