South Africa: Dismiss De Villiers’ devil at your risk

Jaideep Ghosh

southafrica_cricketLet’s go back to the match between India and South Africa. It was a story of exultation and joy on one side and complete disappointment and depression on the other.

The joy was reflected in Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s reaction when AB de Villiers was run out. The Indian skipper knew that was where India won that match.

The disappointment, on the other hand, was written large on De Villiers’ face and he made no secret of it when asked, not just after that match, but even on Friday, when he destroyed a resurgent West Indies with the fastest-ever 150 in ODI history, as his side hammered their way to an unassailable 408 for 5.

So essentially, had South Africa not lost to India, the West Indies may have had a chance. But someone had to pay for De Villiers’ anger, and it was sheer bad luck that the Caribbeans were up next.

Make no mistake, if De Villiers had not been run out against India, they could well have overtaken that total. That explained Dhoni’s reaction.

So the Proteas, who were almost comfortably assuming that they would top Group B, suddenly realised that they wouldn’t, since there is very little left now to challenge India in the pool stage. Including the West Indies.

So that left them only one option – finish strongly, with a great run-rate and at least at No. 2.

And when De Villiers is in, he is unstoppable.

The word ‘genius’ is used with gay abandon in cricket. Anyone who scores two decent centuries is termed so. But when it comes to true genius, there is no one who can compare with AB.

His score of 162 came off just 66 balls. He has now scored the fastest 50, 100 and 150 ever in ODI history and the second-fastest ever World Cup century.

The assault was unbelievable, especially since the West Indies had managed to keep the South Africans in check till AB came in to bat and was joined by Rilee Rossouw in a 134-run stand.

When the West Indies batted, Kyle Abbott and Imran Tahir, with some assistance from the outstanding fielding, destroyed whatever hope they had of making a fight of it.

There’s no doubt that South Africa were stung badly by that loss to India and none more so than AB.

Beware the ire of a patient man, as they say. AB de Villiers is a quiet, unassuming man who goes about his business with any great flair off the ground. But he is a man who can change fames decisively, much better than anyone else around.

So he began repairing the Protea pride, as well as their campaign. And how.

South Africa are considered to be one of the favourites in this World Cup. It is a little disturbing that a loss in one match, or a win, is considered to be decisive in terms of which team are favourites. Especially in the sub-continent.

So South Africa are still one of the favourites. As displayed on Friday.

But unlike a couple of weeks ago, they are fallible and the chinks in their armour are visible.

For one, the attack is not as good as Australia. Simply because it is overly dependent, on paper at least, on one bowler, Dale Steyn.

So if Steyn struggles, as he has done in all three matches, the attack looks average at times. More so as Vernon Philander limped off against India. Morne Morkel has looked good only in patches, while heaven alone can explain how Wayne Parnell ever got selected ahead of Juan ‘Rusty’ Theron.

Not every day will the bowlers have a total of 408 to defend. Tahir looked average against India, while Abbott is always playing second fiddle to Philander. Parnell won’t be used again unless its a dire emergency.

So the bowling will be Steyn, Morkel and Abbott or Philander, followed by Tahir, with the fifth bowler duties falling to JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien or Faf du Plessis. There is really no sixth bowler to fall back on.

So its not a perfect combination. There is no Jacques Kallis anymore, so that is a huge gap to fill. Hashim Amla is looking a little tentative, while Quinton de Kock is struggling at the top of the innings, though his keeping is top class.

But no other team has AB. He can alone change things. Conversely, his dismissal can spell doom for South Africa, as was evident against India.

So it is imperative that get beyond one batsman in AB, or one bowler in Steyn. David Miller and Duminy have come good in batting, but Amla is a must.

Similarly, Abbott and Philander have to be on their A game.

But all that said, there is no doubt that everyone sat up when AB was in action. It defied belief, in sheer quality, it was way better than Chris Gayle’s assault against Zimbabwe, in sheer strike rate and the cumulative total.

This group is much closer than Group A, with Ireland having put their hand up with two wins and Pakistan struggling. But Friday’s win for South Africa and the hammering that the West Indies got makes the case stronger for Pakistan, so this is far from over, in terms of who makes it to the quarter-finals.

But as of now, just sit back and marvel at the genius of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers. Players like this come once in a generation.