A few days ago, he was sulking, licking the wounds the Indians had inflicted. Then came the West Indians. Now, the Caribbeans are sulking, wondering what can heal the deep scars the son of a doctor has left on them.
Off the pitch, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers smiles like an angel within a halo but on it he mesmerizes you before inserting a scalpel, cutting you deep, still with a smile hidden somewhere in his face.
Ask the West Indians. AB de Villiers gave them a sizzling treatment at the ancient Sydney Cricket Ground, defying logic, as most magicians do, to score the fastest 150 in one-day history, adding to his feats of hitting the fastest 100 and 50 in the format.
Five weeks after he blitzed them at Wanderers with a 31-ball hundred, the genteel right-hander has plundered them with an undefeated 66-ball 162, with eight sixes and 17 fours. The kids who watched it will have a gem of a story to tell their grandchildren. And, those with grey on the head will sit under a palm tree on a white, sandy beach and recount the thrill with lemonade. Such was the magic!
When Viv Richards at his peak straddled across the off-stump in the twilight years of ’70s to hoist a searing Mike Hendrick to midwicket, the pundits dropped the textbooks and whispered under their breath that it was sin. Hitting across the line, then, was a cardinal sin. Three decades down, AB de Villiers is breaking free of all sanctions and theories to hit a cricket ball according to the imagination of his creative mind.
To say that the innings the South African captain played at the SCG, shredding the West Indian attack to tiny pieces, like the Caribbean islands themselves, was brilliant will be objectionable to any linguistic. The grammar and the narrative of the AB innings were to be defined in a language hitherto unknown to anyone who has picked up a cricket bat.
When on song, AB elevates batting beyond the confines of the crease. He takes the battle to the bowler even before he begins to think of what ball to bowl by shimmying up, down, left and right, with his mind flipping over to choose the right shot from a unique repertoire, still keeping a steady head.
Unlike “Smoking Joe” Richards, AB doesn’t have an air of swagger about him. Neither does he have any chip on his shoulder. An avid Christian and a wannabe pop singer, AB is all cool anywhere in a cricket field. A wicketkeeper, he is also an all-round fielder whose arms even the fastest runners between the wickets don’t chance.
AB is quintessentially Middle-Class, and he loves to be in the same vein even when he rattles off record scores.
South African journalist Telford Vice writes: “De Villiers bats like a tightrope walker not bothered to check whether his rope is tight. If it is not, he will die a messy death. If it is, life goes on.”
Yes, life goes for the South Africans, smarting under many a slip between the cup and the lip. If AB bats like a tightrope walker, leading a team of sheer talent, life will go on for them, and a World Cup title cannot be elusive.
Living in the same age as AB does, we are living in the age of batting 360 degrees. Such is the art of his creative destruction that he can hit a ball anywhere in a cricket field — wherever it suits the whims and fancy of his genius.
When David Gower, under a mop of curly golden locks, drove to the cover, we called it “poetry in motion”. When Brian Lara went on to bat till the cows came home, we turned another page in batsmanship. When Mark Waugh hooked Waqar Younis as if he was having a scoop of ice cream in a park, we sat and watched. When Sachin Tendulkar merged orthodoxy with dexterity, we read on.
What do we do now?