Johannesburg - As a bowler who has had to bowl to the dominant batsmen of his generation – one Brian Lara and a certain Sachin Tendulkar – Allan Donald knows a thing or two about planning in vain to dismiss them.
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With the ongoing South Africa-India Test series a little low on big team totals, the batting contest has become the AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli show. The two have scored 200 and 191 runs at 50 and 47.75, respectively, after two Tests.
The final game, at the Wanderers, starts on Wednesday.
De Villiers has admitted to being in the best form of his life. He has scored two fifties and has only failed to reach three figures because his aggression has seen him get himself out. Kohli’s 153 on a difficult pitch at SuperSport Park was a punchy retort to the idea that Indian batsmen suffer a collective meltdown the moment there’s a bit of bounce in the wicket.
The result is that both sets of bowlers have spent a significant part of the series scratching their heads about how to dismiss De Villiers and Kohli.
Donald – who took 330 wickets for the Proteas and now earns a living as a bowling coach with Kent – has nothing but sympathy for them.
“I have a standing joke that if you’re sitting in a team meeting planning to get guys like that out, good luck to you.
“They’re obviously freakish players and the only other player I can remember who’s similar is Ricky Ponting, although he didn’t have De Villiers’ flair.
“The problem with them is they’re technically very organised and hit good balls for four. They always look to attack and transfer pressure back onto the bowlers and make it difficult for them to hit their lines and lengths. These are the two best batsmen in the world at the moment".
Get on top of bowlers
While he’s an equal admirer of both, Donald has something approaching a favourite in his countryman, but it’s a decision made less from parochialism than it is from enjoying his particular brand of artistry with the bat.
“I had the pleasure of watching both make hundreds in the IPL (Indian Premier League) – I’d never seen hitting like that. But with AB, whatever you plan technically in a team meeting goes out the window. He’s a player you can’t plan for because he has so many options.
“He’s an unbelievable 360 degrees player in all formats of the game. Virat himself has said he absolutely adores watching AB bat in one-day cricket. Once one of the players asked him how he did it and he said his way was to get on top of the bowlers very quickly, basically to get them to change their lengths".
Donald’s case in point is how De Villiers put India’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar off after the swing bowler got off to a flyer in the first Test in Cape Town: “One minute he had three wickets for nothing and suddenly he was 3/40 after a big over by AB".
That said, Donald says it is a close-run thing as to who is the better batsman. His feeling is that De Villiers is the better limited-overs player and Kohli an archetypal Test player.
“In Test match cricket, Virat is technically well organised, has a good temperament and a good flow about him. He can also guts it out, which we saw with the 100 he scored at Centurion. AB can be very attacking and just wants to put pressure on the bowlers all the time".
Ball with name on it
Funnily enough, the best way to combat the batsmen’s aggression, says Donald, is to fight fire with fire.
“AB wants to dominate every ball, which makes you doubt your lengths as a bowler. We were talking about it in the IPL and (Australia’s) Mitchell Starc said the one thing you can’t afford to do is back off with your own aggression. If you keep coming and backing your instincts, you’ll have a bit of success.
“It’s a bit like when I was bowling to Lara. He had that genius and was relentless at putting you away. He had all the shots, quick hands and quick feet – but you always felt he had a ball with his name on it".
Asked who he’d have preferred to bowl to in his “White Lightning” heydays, Donald’s choice is almost predictable: “I’d say Kohli because I feel from a red ball perspective if you bowl fuller and get tight on that fourth stump outside off stump, you can get him out.
“You can get more dots than you would with AB, which can frustrate him. He’s been caught behind before on that kind of ball and if his first 20 balls are there, he tends to find it hard to leave".