PAARL – AB de Villiers announced his return to international cricket in the most sublime manner possible with his 25th career ODI century and remarkably his first ever against Bangladesh in the second Momentum One-Day International at Eurolux Boland Park on Wednesday.
The fact that the Proteas won by 104 runs and clinched the series with a 2-0 series lead paled into significance against the backdrop of De Villiers’ brilliance.
It is almost vulgar to describe a De Villiers innings in terms of statistics because that is not what this great player is all about.
He is a player who radiates class, flair, improvisation and a determination to challenge convention.
Yet this was one day when his statistics did tell a sort of story. When he came to the crease, the Proteas had scored 90/2 in 18 overs for a scoring rate of exactly five runs to the over.
Unbelievably, the Proteas’ top three batsmen had hit only three boundaries, although this was in a large part due to the slowness of the outfield following three days of rain.
By the time he had finished, he had made a career-best 176 off 104 balls, and made a total of 353/6 possible that was to prove way beyond the capabilities of Bangladesh.
It was the fourth best for South Africa behind the 188 of Gary Kirsten, the 185 of Faf du Plessis and the 178 of Quinton de Kock.
Kirsten’s record was his for the taking going into the final three overs, but then De Villiers is not the sort of player who would be worried about that.
The real statistic of his innings was the fact that he hit 15 fours and seven sixes, while the total contribution of all the other South African batsmen was five fours and one six.
At one stage at the crescendo of his innings, he hit six sixes and two fours in the space of 14 deliveries.
As always, his ability to hit boundaries where others were struggling were the result of his innate gifts of timing, quicksilver footwork and the ability to pick length quicker than most mortals.
His cover driving was peerless, but the shot of the innings was his pull to midwicket off a delivery from the left-arm spin of Shakib Al Hasan to a delivery that was not particularly short.
After the business-as-usual opening stand of 90 between De Kock and Hashim Amla, De Villiers was involved in stands of 136 with Amla – this was both a ground third-wicket record and a third-wicket record against Bangladesh – and a further 117 with JP Duminy.
The latter contributed only 20 to the first 100 runs of that partnership.
De Villiers has now scored ODI centuries against all his major opponents. Ireland remain on his still-to-do list, as does Scotland, and he has yet to play against Afghanistan.
The Proteas total of 353/6 was a ground record, but fell five runs short of South Africa’s best against Bangladesh.
Rubel Hossain (4/62) was the most successful Bangladesh bowler, although Shakib was undoubtedly the best (2/60).
The visitors gave it a good shot in going for the runs, with both Imrul Kayes (68 off 77 balls, 6x4, 1x6) and Mushfiqur Rahim (60 off 70 balls, 4x4, 1x6) reaching half-centuries.
But what has been a problem throughout the tour – the inability to put together match-winning partnerships – once again cost them.
They went into the last 20 overs needing 187 for victory and the game gradually drifted away from them.
Imran Tahir did his normal wicket-taking job in the middle overs (3/50 in 10 overs), and the bowling performance was generally better than in Kimberley, although they were not helped by some missed chances in the field.
Andile Phehlukwayo finished the match with career-best figures of 4/40, his second four-wicket haul, improving on his previous best of 4/44 against Australia.
De Villiers was named the Man of the Match.
Cricket South Africa