It was a normal afternoon at Boland Park with Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock carrying on from where they left off at Kimberly albeit on a slower, more difficult surface. The few people in the stadium were lazing around the grass banks, some enjoying their noon siesta while a few watched the action.
And just when you thought these two would never ever get dismissed in this series, Shakib-al-Hasan, that all-rounder who Bangladesh depend on for everything, turned up to deliver a magical over. He had Quinton de Kock leg before wicket and two balls later cleaned up skipper Faf du Plessis with a beautifully flighted, sharply turning delivery.
Bangladesh were finally putting up a fight after nearly a month of mediocrity. It seemed like the match was turning alive. It seemed like South Africa were finally being put to test on a slower than usual Boland Park wicket.
Enter AB de Villiers.
Unlike other batsmen in World cricket, de Villiers doesn’t walk or jog to the wicket, he nearly runs. There is a hustle and hurry in every stride he takes. You can feel the energy bursting through as he walks to the crease, acknowledges his partner, checks the pitch with a couple of taps and punches the ball first ball to get off the mark.
He goes through these motions no matter what the situation.
On Wednesday, de Villiers appeared his usual bubbly self, eager to get on strike, so much so that he nearly ran himself out three balls into his innings. In the next over, he missed a dart from Shakib-al-Hasan and edged to first slip, but the fielder completely missed the ball and allowed a triple. It was the final mistake he would make before his dismissal nearly 30 overs later.
A pristine cover drive for four off Mashrafe Mortaza got the former skipper going. Next ball, de Villiers whipped the Bangladesh skipper through the on-side with a wristy, rolled over hoick, beautiful in his own very manner.
By the time Nasir Hossain and Shakib-al-Hasan bowled in tandem to disrupt the South African batsmen, ABD was in his groove. He slashed Shakib through the leg side and swept Nasir with a powerful front foot stride and greeted Taskin Ahmed with two gorgeous shots either side of the wicket.
Amla was ambling along at one end with 56 off 64 balls, deemed pretty good on a difficult wicket until de Villiers walked in started slaying the bowling to reach 40 in just 28 balls. The Superman was batting in a completely different surface. He had no troubles adjusting to the pace of the wicket and went about his business in a clam, nonchalant way.
By the time he smashed Sabbir Rahman through the covers to bring up his half-century, Boland Park was buzzing. The World has seen enough of AB de Villiers to know when he is onto something special. And this was going to be extra-special. You could feel the lazy afternoon in Paarl turning into an exciting evening with the ‘ABD show’ set to begin.
Amla was on 38 when de Villiers walked in to bat but by the time the opener reached 66, de Villiers had matched upto him. He raced past Amla with a massive, slog sweep over cow corner of Nasir Hossain and never looked back.
Two over later, Amla departed and JP Duminy walked in, but de Villiers doesn’t mind partners. He bats in his own World, slicing, carving and thrashing the opposition to submission. He raced into his 90s and punished Rubel Hossain with two spectacular shots past deep mid-wicket. The first one went for just a couple of runs as he flicked Rubel through the leg-side and the deep mid-wicket fielder rain in stopped a boundary. The very next ball, which landed in the same area, de Villiers made a slight adjustment, flicked harder and hit a boundary through the same region.
Two balls later, he nudged the same bowler for a single to walk to a 25th ODI hundred, once again at more than run a ball (68 balls). None of de Villiers’ 25 hundreds has come at less than a 100 strike rate, a stat which reveals the massive impact he has had for South Africa over a decade.
Bangladesh by now knew that they were in some trouble. de Villiers had already gotten past the three figure mark and there were 12 overs still to go in the innings. At Johannesburg two years back, that time was enough for de Villiers to smash 149 runs, including the fastest hundred in the history of ODI cricket.
When Mortaza yelled at the two deep fielders as de Villiers’ mistimed hook landed in no man’s land, you could feel the fear in Bangladesh. The top edge had indeed landed between the two fielders and quite some distance away from either, but Mortaza didn’t care. It was a chance to dismiss de Villiers and the fielders had failed to pull off what would have been the greatest catch of all-time. He still didn’t care. With de Villiers, you need to grab any opportunity that comes your way.
The dancing shoes were on by now and de Villiers was all over the Bangladeshis, slaying the skipper through cover point, slashing Shakib off the back foot before bullying him over the mid-wicket fence. In between, Mortaza delivered a slower bouncer to him and de Villiers missed an upper cut. This seemed to have prompted an idea in the Bangladeshi skipper’s mind and he ran in next over with a ploy of bouncing the Superman out.
That plan ended quite soon, with de Villiers smoking back to back sixes off bouncers to cruise into the 140s. By the end of next over, he would reach 162, his highest score till date in One Day Internationals. Taskin Ahmed was at the receiving end of some spectacular shots as he bludgeoned 2,6,4,6 in the first four balls of the over. When Mortaza returned, de Villiers thumped him over the off-side and smacked him into the grass banks with a majestic pull.
The show was over in the 48th over as de Villiers mistimed a swipe from Rubel Hossain to be caught at deep mid-wicket. He had 176 to his name, off 104 balls, at a strike rate of 169.23 on a surface where most batsmen struggled to adjust to the pace of the wicket.
“I was quite nervous, with us losing two quick wickets – it felt like my first game again and I told Hash [Amla] that we need to get a partnership for the guys, and it’s important that we do so and we did. It was a great privilege today to do that for the boys and to contribute. It took me an over or so to remember that I actually had a good net in Kimberley, that I’m in good form and I had to remind myself that I am still hitting the ball well”, de Villiers commented after the match.
He seemed anything but ‘nervous’ during the stupendous knock. Boland Park, which seemed to be headed towards another dry, boring day had been jolted awake by an ABD special. There was disdain, energy, enthusiasm and passion behind every one of the 104 balls he faced. In 121 minutes, the outstanding batsman, returning from a four month hiatus from International cricket, had shown the World that nothing, nothing at all, had changed. He was still that monstrous, unforgiving, destructive beast that the World knew him to be. He might have switched priorities, endured the wrath of some critics and returned again but with pads, bat and gloves on, de Villiers was a run machine. He creates hubbub every single time he walks to the wicket and this time, as he walked off Boland Park, after an outrageous knock, the crowd did not forget to give him a standing ovation. He soaked it all in, but hurried back, nearly jogging, acknowledging the new batsman walking down the aisle and disappeared into the dressing room. The beast was back and how!