From the moment AB de Villiers leaves the dressing room it’s all energy. He does not walk to the crease like the conventional batsman. Instead, he skips, jumps and even runs down the balcony stairs and is at the crease in a flash.
It is the clearest sign of intent. De Villiers is extremely alert to the situation of the game, and is clear in his thoughts of what he wants to achieve when he is out in the middle. It is trait that can be honed through experience, but is ultimately an instinctive natural “feel for the game”.
De Villiers is blessed like this and illustrated it brilliantly in Paarl during South Africa’s 258-run hammering of Sri Lanka in the first one-day international. The Proteas limited-overs skipper changed the course of his team’s innings with a boundary-filled 53 off 40 balls.
It was not just De Villiers’ strike-rate that was impressive, but how it was achieved.
De Villiers had identified a “gamebreaker” situation and seized the moment.
“I came in with a clear goal,” De Villiers said on Thursday. “I knew towards the backend it would be a lot more difficult to get the ball away, and it was also the time (Lasith) Malinga would come back which would make scoring much harder. Thankfully, it worked out for us on the day, so that’s the positive.”
This mindset is nothing new to De Villiers, though. He has always exhibited loads of flair, and has never been afraid to try the extraordinary. But it now has added spin-offs for South Africa.
The 27-year-old is now the leader of the Proteas, and will imprint his ideologies, along with coach Gary Kirsten’s, on the South African one-day and Twenty20 unit. And it was already evident at Boland Park, and will be even more noticeable as the current series against Sri Lanka progresses.
The promotion of Albie Morkel to No5 on Wednesday was a small step in that direction. De Villiers was still at the crease, but had done sufficient pre-match preparation with Kirsten to notice that South Africa were placed at 241/2 after the 40th over. The traditional Proteas mindset would have seen JP Duminy come to the crease.
Instead the older Morkel was sent in knowing that should the big-hitting left-hander succeed, South Africa would register a total in excess of 320. The fact that they didn’t had more to do with excellent death bowling from Malinga – like De Villiers anticipated – than any miscalculation in terms of tactics.
South Africa failed to utilise Morkel’s abilities far too often in one-day and T20 cricket, often with disastrous outcomes. The most memorable occasion was when the Titans all-rounder remained in the dug out until the last over of the World Twenty20 semi-final against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in Nottingham in 2009, only for South Africa to fall agonisingly short, despite having four wickets remaining.
It is not only the batting department that De Villiers is focusing on. It is the bowlers, too, that will need to respond to their captain, especially on an unhelpful surface like East London is expected to be in the second ODI on Saturday. If Paarl was any indication, the skipper has got his message across loud and clear.
“It was all attack, from the beginning to the end. We knew that we’d have to run in and hit the deck hard,” De Villiers said.
“That’s the key on these kinds of tracks, then you can get out of it what you want. We did have a bit of seam movement, which we didn’t expect, but we also saw Dale (Steyn) not clocking in below 140km/h. It was aggressive and we had intent all the time.”
Although Sri Lanka are the team that are overflowing questions after slumping to their worst defeat in one-day history, it is South Africa that could make a couple of changes for Buffalo Park.
Paarl centurion Hashim Amla’s wife is expecting the birth of their first child which could see him leave the squad to be at her bedside, although De Villiers said the situation will be “monitored”. In terms of tactical changes, Steyn could be rested after a heavy workload in the Test series with Wayne Parnell earmarked as a possible starter. - Cape Times