Produce a couple of big scores this week, guide the Tshwane Spartans into Friday’s play-off match, win that and get to Sunday’s final at Newlands and sure De Villiers could still make it about him. Cricket SA wouldn’t mind that either. They’ve leaned a lot on De Villiers’ stardom to try and raise the popularity of the MSL.
The fact that Sony Pictures Network India picked up the rights to broadcast the MSL on its Indian platforms had a lot to do with De Villiers. He is, as South Africans have come to learn, an enormous star in India mainly on account of his exploits in the IPL for the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
However the level of excitement De Villiers generates over there has not been replicated in the MSL. De Villiers has been anonymous. He’s scored 189 runs, averages just 23.62, has a strike rate of 157.50 and his only half-century came in the opening match against the Cape Town Blitz at Newlands.
In various interviews De Villiers said he’s been hitting the ball well, and while there have been a few unfortunate dismissals he’s not been able to make the impact on the field many would have expected.
His overall form was always going to be difficult to judge. He admitted he’d not picked up a bat until a week before the tournament started. The only way to measure him before the MSL started was the IPL, which finished in June and there De Villiers performed outstandingly for Bangalore, scoring 480 runs at a ridiculous average of 53.33, a strike rate of 174.54 with six half-centuries.
De Villiers and the Spartans have no more wiggle room left in the MSL. They have to win both of their remaining matches; this evening at the Wanderers against the Jozi Stars and then tomorrow at home against the Durban Heat, to have any chance of qualifying for the play-off game. They beat the Stars in the earlier round-robin game thanks to Dean Elgar’s outstanding 79 not out. Against the Heat they were somewhat unlucky to lose when the rain started falling just as they’d given themselves a chance of pushing for victory.
And while the Spartans players have all said the onus is on them to relieve some of the burden on their captain, they will also be hoping that he fires this week. The MSL has waited long enough now. Elgar and Gihahn Cloete have both played match-winning innings’ in the competition, De Villiers is overdue.
Today’s match starts at 7pm.