AB de Villiers: Artist of the modern game

AB de Villiers was a pure and simple match-winner; high on octane and low on sympathy for the bowlers.

The lap shot and how he harnessed the pace on the ball for strokes behind the ‘keeper reflected de Villiers' supreme hand-eye coordination.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The field was his canvas and he brush-stroked it with vibrant colours. The genius created masterpieces.

AB de Villiers was light on his feet and heavy with his strokes. A natural, he breathtakingly manipulated the bowling.

His incredible 360-degree range forced bowlers to move away from their game-plan and made field-placements a nightmare for captains. The 37-year-old South African, sadly, will not display his skills on the field anymore. He has, on Friday, retired from all forms of the game.

READ: IN PICTURES: AB de Villiers, the magician

de Villiers was an all-format cricketing great who grew up trying his hand in various sports. He was a pure and simple match-winner; high on octane and low on sympathy for the bowlers.

Batting slots never bothered the gifted de Villiers, who timed the ball like a dream. He found the gaps with a surgeon’s precision and cleared the field with ease. His batting was a thing of beauty. He rode on rhythm, grace, flow and balance. And runs came in torrents.

Pitches never held him back. He adapted with subtle changes and made runs in seaming pitches with bounce, conditions where the ball swung both ways, and on rank turners.
Like most batting greats, de Villiers picked the length early and had more than two shots for every delivery. He danced down to unsettle bowlers. Or he went deep back, using the depth of the crease, to further shorten the length and essay delicate strokes between point and third man.

READ: AB de Villiers retires from all forms of cricket

Importantly, de Villiers’ fundamentals were sound. He was an aggressive batter who snatched the game from the opposition, but also had a secure defence to fall back on.

The smooth-stroker has won matches aplenty for South Africa. In Tests, his home and away record is extremely well balanced.

de Villiers started with a disadvantage since conditions for batting at home were tough, with the ball seaming around on the bouncy South African pitches. In 66 home Tests, de Villiers has 4788 runs at 47.40 with 13 centuries. And in 44 away Tests, he conjured 3396 runs at 50.68 with seven tons. In four Tests in neutral venues de Villiers made a whopping 581 runs at 116.20 with two centuries.

Astonishingly, for someone who did not open the innings, de Villiers notched up 9577 ODI runs at an outstanding average of 53.50. In Twenty20 cricket, playing for franchises around the world, he was a destroyer of bowling, rattling up 9424 runs in 340 games at 37.24 with a compelling strike rate of 150.13.

 

Some of his innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore will be remembered for long even if the format is the shortest. The lap shot and how he harnessed the pace on the ball for strokes behind the ‘keeper reflected his hand-eye coordination.

And de Villiers’ bat-speed was astonishing. The ball would appear and then disappear in a hurry. His inborn athleticism came to the fore on the field, where he was, arguably, the greatest fielder of our times. The South African would fling himself on either side to make tremendous stops, and could, defying gravity, pluck catches out of thin air, both close to the wicket or in the outfield where his leap and balance would convert a potential six into a sensational catch.     

The mercurial de Villiers was one of his kind. A game-changer who made his own rules.

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