PAARL – On a sun-drenched Wednesday morning, with the Du Tooitskloof Mountains looking over, etched in brilliant relief against a cloudless sky, AB de Villiers delivered a timely reminder of the genius that he is.
It was the perfect setting, combined with a feeble Bangladeshi attack that has taken a pounding on this tour of South Africa, for De Villiers to begin his journey to the 2019 World Cup.
Much has been made about De Villiers’ absence from the national team across various formats over the past two years due to injury and a sabbatical, but to doubt his talent and prowess with willow in hand was simply foolish.
Relieved of all leadership responsibilities handed over to his good friend Faf du Plessis, who he believes “could become one of our best ever”, De Villiers expressed his new-found freedom in a manner that made even the opposition’s supporters stand up and applaud.
And there certainly were many of them, for just like in Kimberley during the first ODI on Sunday, the mass of the green in the stands and on the grass banks here in Paarl were primarily there to see their Bangladeshi heroes in the flesh.
But instead of being entertained by Tamim Iqbal or Shakib Al Hasan, they were instead treated to a masterclass from De Villiers, who struck a blisteringly seamless 176 off only 104 balls.
Back in tandem again with his long-time run-scoring partner Hashim Amla, the pair joined forces as if they were never separated as they put on 120 for the fourth wicket, with Amla cruising to 85 off 92 balls.
“It’s great to be back. I was quite nervous. I felt like it was my first game. I enjoyed my break. It was like my first off-season in 13 seasons. I got to see my second son grow,” De Villiers enthused.
“But I missed being part of the team. I wanted to get back and am glad that I could contribute. I worked on a few technical things too.
“We had lost a couple of wickets. I was nervous, so I told Hash that we needed to get a partnership going again, and it was great to be out there with Hash again.”
De Villiers’ innings supplied the sort of scoreboard pressure that would affect teams anywhere and was always likely to prove terminal to the opposition, not least a touring side that have yet to taste any form of success.
The pitch stayed true, but the asking rate was relentless. Imrul Kayes (68 off 77 balls) and Sunday’s centurion Mushfiqur Rahim (60 off 70 balls) at least kept their fervent fans warm as the temperature dropped in the afternoon, but a successful run-chase was always going to require someone to play an innings of far greater substance.
It was not forthcoming, with Imran Tahir also once again being the Grinch that stole the middle overs.
There is no bowler in the world that strikes more regularly during overs 20-40 than the veteran Proteas leg-spinner.
He duly delivered the double scalp of Shakib and Imrul Kayes in successive overs, which eliminated any chance of an upset.
When he added the wicket of Sabbir Rahman later on, it was merely just reward for his earlier efforts.
Young all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo certainly did not mind Tahir (3/50) softening up the Bangladeshi top-order for him to pounce like a hyena on its prey, as he collected a career-best 4/40 to end any further resistance.
But for all and sundry, the day belonged to De Villiers.
He was relentless in his determination to keep the scoring rate above a run-a-ball, and he brought a certain energy level to the batting unit that only a player of his immense talents can deliver.
Welcome back, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers!