The ABD of batting

November 19, 2015

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

South Africa's AB de Villiers plays a shot on the first day of their second cricket test match against India in Bengaluru, India, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa - RTS6YON

South Africa’s AB de Villiers plays a shot on the first day of their second cricket test match against India in Bengaluru, November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa

It’s ironic that AB de Villiers, a batsman who has defied the law of averages, had his 100th test match at Bangalore washed out by unrelenting rain. But before he did, he showed his class at the Chinnaswamy pitch.

An hour before the match, he was playing football with his teammates while the stadium was erupting with chants of “ABD, ABD.” There was no visible sign of any special preparation. His practice sessions often are short and intense. This one looked leisurely.

Consistency has made de Villiers an extraordinary batsman in contemporary cricket. In last five years, he averaged a phenomenal 64.23 in 38 tests (59 innings), and in the last one year his average stands at 79.

Evidently, the South African team hadn’t got over the Mohali drubbing. They were expecting the pitch, which initially showed spongy bounce, to turn square. It bore no such malice towards the batsmen. Ravichandran Ashwin, in the eighth over of the innings, struck with his second ball – Stiaan van Zyl gingerly played for the turn, where there was none. The flighted straighter one wrapped him plumb in front of the middle stump. Three balls later, Faf du Plessis perished to a brilliant catch held by Cheteshwar Pujara at forward shortleg. Soon skipper Hashim Amla saw his wickets flying while playing inside the line to a brutishly fast delivery of Varun Aaron.

South Africa made a disastrous start with 45 for three in 15 overs. That’s when de Villiers walked in. It seemed like he was breathing different air. To the very first ball, he stepped out to Ashwin and played with soft hands, smothering the spin. The message was clear – with the assuredness of his feet movement and positive intent, he was here to take on the spin attack of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

A tussle developed between de Villiers and Jadeja. It was a battle for territory – Jadeja wanted to tie down de Villiers with ball pitching on good length, while the South African would often step out to make the bowler change his length. Always looking for a duel with the batsman, Jadeja on seeing the rushing de Villiers would shorten the length and yet the batsman would find ways to counter the ball either with his bat or pad.

Indian captain Virat Kohli employed a six-three field, packing the off side to stifle South Africa’s leading batsman. But de Villiers looked unfazed; his mission was to bail out his team from imminent danger. And yet he never stopped playing mind games with the bowlers and the other side’s captain. To establish his authority, he played a scorching cover drive right under the nose of Kohli – the ball blazed to the boundary before Kohli could even react.

While his teammates demonstrated a lack of self belief and application, de Villiers built his innings with innocuous-looking ones and twos, and yet the runs kept coming. Aaron’s sheer pace and the occasional snorter beat him a few times, but he came back later in the post-lunch session to punish the fast bowler with two consecutive boundaries.

He enthralled the crowds with his signature skill and chutzpah. It took a spectacular catch from keeper Wriddhiman Saha to end his innings at 85 – a century eluded him on his 100th test. While his mother and wife, who flew in for the match, showed a hint of dismay, he showed none. He walked back to the pavilion, raising his bat in acknowledgement to the sporting crowd, cheering “ABD, ABD” all the while.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Anupam on Twitter @IPratihary and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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