Cape Town – The oohs and the aahs, the big headlines, the
gushing tweets, the necessarily swift and repeated lunge for the record books
to identify new milestones ... these were all AB de Villiers-induced.
The Proteas captain just underlined his swelling reputation
as a human cyclone of limited-overs batting in powering his country’s drive to
a crushing 257-run victory over West Indies at Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday.
South Africa have regained a much firmer footing in World
Cup Pool B as a consequence, their net run rate benefiting as much as anything
from a pleasingly ruthless day’s work, the first time in three at the
tournament that they have properly demonstrated their collective muscle.
Almost as though determined to relive the sheer fun, exuberance
and audacity of his Wanderers pyrotechnics against the same hapless foes only
last month – 149 off 44 balls – De Villiers got nasty on them all over again as
he surged to a new career-best of 162 not out off 66 deliveries.
It pretty much amounted to a late celebration, 10 days on,
of his 31st birthday.
When he took guard at No 5, there was still some doubt that
the Proteas would reach 300 after taking first strike; instead they hurtled to
408 in the blink of an eye (if your eyes were closed you were missing out on
something) and it was effectively goodbye Windies.
Not even another Chris Gayle double-century, after all,
would have been any guarantee of a successful pursuit ... and the big
left-hander, for the record, scored three before a pumped-up Kyle Abbott
rattled the top of his leg-stump.
De Villiers’s career strike rate – among other things – is
going northward fast; he is now seriously close to the 100-mark at 98.19 and
only two of the 28 batsmen above him at this point on the all-time list for ODI
run-scoring can sport three-figure rates: the happy-go-lucky Shahid Afridi at
116.70 and Virender Sehwag with 104.33.
His batting average, however, is way better than both and he
will quite soon and effortlessly overtake them for total runs, too, as his name
rises through the illustrious ranks.
But every high-calibre bit of theatre has its compelling,
vital supporting actors as well, and De Villiers happily admitted later on
Friday how less experienced colleague Rilee Rossouw (61 off 39 balls) had
helped light the fire on his own destructiveness.
“Rilee inspired me a bit; his energy levels got me (going)
too. He gave us an injection of momentum; I just followed.”
The pair had joined forces at a mildly worrisome time, with
South Africa having surrendered both partners in a century stand, Hashim Amla
and Faf du Plessis, in the same (30th) over and with the total just
short of the 150-mark.
Which way would things go? Was it the West Indies’ passport
right back into the contest at that point, given their knowledge that an iffy
South African tail wasn’t too far away?
It seemed a period of fresh consolidation was called for by
the Proteas ... but the 25-year-old Rossouw, in his 15th ODI and
World Cup debut, was having none of it, determined instead to counter-punch
immediately and with some venom.
The tactic caught the West Indians off-guard, especially
when, confidence amassing like thunderclouds on a Highveld summer’s afternoon,
Rossouw began to add a pinch of Brian Lara-like flamboyance to his clean
driving and deft nudging and gliding of the ball.
Particularly memorable was the way he reached his
half-century, both legs well airborne as he jabbed a sharply rising delivery
from paceman Jerome Taylor for six into the stands backward of square on the
The Free Stater’s adventurous spirit was transferring, all
the while, into the veins of the more renowned De Villiers as well, as the scoring
rate rose. And rose. And rose ...
Their partnership of 134 in not quite 13 overs totally
transformed the match: any self-belief progressively leaked from the West
Indies players as De Villiers indulged in his uniquely withering brand of
finishing to the Proteas’ innings.
While the main weight of accolades for South Africa’s
massive victory understandably went the way of De Villiers – Imran Tahir’s
maiden five-for wasn’t too shabby, either, and will unavoidably not get quite its
deserved spot in the sun – some astute observers were not going to omit to laud
Rossouw’s big personal statement.
Former Zimbabwean World Cup star Neil Johnson, in the
SuperSport studio, said he is “smashing the door down” and will have to be
accommodated more routinely, immediately.
Meanwhile neutral commentator Mark Nicholas from the SCG
itself, as if to fully awaken the Proteas’ brains trust to Rossouw’s X-factor,
posed the pertinent question: “You’re looking for magic players, aren’t you?”
Messages don’t get much clearer than those, really.*Follow
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing