AB: The ace entertainer
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Is AB de Villiers the very best “bums on seats” specialist batting factor in one-day international cricket at present?
LIVE SCORING: SA vs Netherlands
GALLERY: CWC 2011
He is certainly right in contention, for pure entertainment appeal to accompany a burgeoning statistical record, among the very cream of established batsmen who generally operate among the bedrock top four slots in the ODI order for their various countries.
Thursday’s De Villiers-led demolition job on the hapless Netherlands attack at Mohali – where South Africa became the second World Cup side after India in the opening match to go past the 350 mark – only underlined why the popular 27-year-old from the Titans really has nobody above him for current star appeal.
De Villiers lashed 134 off only 98 balls at a strike rate of 136.73, and his third-wicket stand of 221 with the ever-conscientious Hashim Amla (113 at a more sedate rate of 86.92) was posted in fewer than 30 overs together.
They bat so well as a pair particularly because the unselfish Amla, whilst getting an admirable crack-on himself much of the time, also has no problem with letting someone like De Villiers dominate the strike if he is hitting the ball long and hard.
The duo were positively blistering during the batting powerplay, in which the Proteas soared from 218 for two after 41 overs to 287 for four after 46: that is 69 runs from five overs, one shy of the record which apparently stands at 70. It was here where the orange-clad minnows really experienced their major heartache.
And De Villiers was the chief executioner, at one stage briefly stirring the possibility that he might emulate Herschelle Gibbs’s six-sixes-in-an-over job against these very opponents at St Kitts in 2007: he struck the first three deliveries of an over from Bernard Loots for firm, front-of-wicket sixes.
But then the Dutch medium-pacer, who looked almost as pedestrian as one of those lovable Sunday morning souls who might steam in as first change at a country club in his shorts while the square leg umpire lies down with a cigarette in one hand, admirably produced a decent yorker to banish that dream to bed.
De Villiers wasn’t quite done for cruelty at the crease, though, as he promptly took three fours off the first three balls of the next over from compatriot Ryan ten Doeschate, who has a rather more decent reputation than Loots in top-flight cricket but could do little himself to close the sluice-gates – one of the boundaries was from a lovely reverse paddle to third man.
This was De Villiers’ 11th ODI century and his second in as many games at this tournament. He has now beefed his average to 45.94 after 116 appearances for the Proteas, with a strike rate also heading ever-northward at 91.30.
Remember that the dashing right-hander seemed to take an eternity to “take” to ODI cricket: he could not even boast a fifty in his first 16 innings, and it was 37 before he registered a century.
But his last 25 knocks have yielded eight tons and De Villiers has basically carried on where he left off after being named the ICC’s ODI player of the year in 2010.
If you do a little statistical whip-around of various other blue-chip top-order batsmen around the planet in this format who have played more than 100 matches, De Villiers compares incredibly favourably in both average and strike rate terms.
The legendarily pyrotechnical Virender Sehwag, for instance, has a superior strike rate of 103.80 from his 230 ODIs, but his risky, cavalier approach also curtails his batting average to 35.30, a long way behind the South African.
And Sehwag’s incomparable Indian compatriot Sachin Tendulkar, after all of 446 games, averages 45.11 and has a strike rate of 86.29. (The latter figure is admittedly a little deceptive because the 37-year-old maestro started his ODI career at a time when totals weren’t nearly as beefy as they are today.)
West Indies’ Chris Gayle (275 matches) averages 39.01 and has a strike rate of 83.61, Ricky Ponting (Australia) averages 42.60 (strike rate 80.55) after 354 ODIs and England’s Kevin Pietersen, who has played a very similar tally of ODIs (113) to De Villiers, averages 41.43 with a strike rate of 87.01.
De Villiers, then, can truly be said to be right up there, and maybe then some ...