The All-Round Genius of AB De Villiers

AB De Villiers celebrates scoring the fastest ODI century ever against the West Indies of just 31 balls at Johannesburg 2015

The Joy Of Watching AB De Villiers In Action

Whilst watching the 3TeamSolidarity Cup on the BBC red button, something became abundantly clear, something we all knew before but was just highlighted by this game: AB de Villiers is the most talented batsman to have ever played the game. 

This three-team match was played between the Eagles, the Kites and the Kingfishers. It was a unique chance to get cricket – and live sport – in general, back to South Africa. This will be a welcome break for a nation hit hard by a global pandemic and undergoing a series of social injustices. Admittedly, various members of the country’s sporting icons are busy bringing attention to. 

ABs Eagles’ captain AB de Villiers (R) plays a shot during the 3TC Solidarity Cup cricket match between KGs Kingfishers, Quinnys Kites and ABs Eagles at the SuperSport Park in Centurion on July 18, 2020. (Photo by Christiaan Kotze / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAAN KOTZE/AFP via Getty Images)

An Interesting Insight

The game provided English viewers with an insight into various aspects of South African cricket they hadn’t had much access to. Makhaya Ntini was commentating on his own son. The pacey Junior Dala was cranking it up and Andile Phelukwayo was displaying a Black Lives Matter t-shirt whilst raising his fist. However, the moment most people, casual or otherwise had been waiting for arrived midway through the game as AB began to tick.

De Villiers began to unfurl some of the shots he has become famous for over his illustrious career. Such shots we all know he can play yet leave us speechless every time.

In one over from Anrich Nortje, he worked a dangerous full toss down the ground for four. He then proceeded next ball to latch onto a fast bouncer, seeing the ball sail yards into the empty stands. Knowing what we know about this brilliant player it seems ridiculous that we need to ask the question.

Just how good is AB de Villiers?

The phrase 360-degree batsman is a slightly overused one nowadays. Particularly in limited-overs cricket. The need to be able to adapt to hit the ball around the ground is paramount. In the case of AB de Villiers however, the phrase was virtually created to describe his batting ability. 

De Villiers’ staggering ability to hit the ball to all parts of the ground is something which is, at this point, so legendary that part of his mental battle with opposition captains and bowlers is won long before he starts to sweep sixes over fine leg. 

TOPSHOT – South Africa’s AB de Villiers (C) celebrates after scoring a century (100 runs) during the second one day international (ODI) cricket match between South Africa and Bangladesh at Boland Park in Paarl on October 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

It is worth pointing out the fact that, with cricket, as with other sports, statistics do not mean everything. This is an excuse usually used for those players who have fairly standard looking stats but whose impact is immeasurably larger than they suggest. In the case of AB de Villiers, his statistics not telling the whole story of his sheer brilliance is alarming. For those who put a lot of stock in stats, feast your eyes.

The Statistics

Test Matches : 8765 runs @ 50.66

One Day Internationals : 9577 runs  @ 53.50

T20 (Domestic and International) : 8657 runs @ 37.15 / strike-rate 149.77

Here are a few more raw statistical marvels in case the above were not sufficient. Here is the full list of players to average fifty or more runs per innings in both test matches and ODI’s: Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, end of the list.

Now for a list of every player to average 50 or more in an ODI with a strike rate of more than 100; AB de Villiers, end of the list.

Who has more range than AB de Villiers?

Among those statistics, there are two to focus on primarily, there are two scores which contribute to his overall statistics which tell us more than you may think. De Villiers has scored the fastest century of all time, off of 31 one deliveries. Plus he has scored an innings of 162 runs from 66 balls. De Villiers has also scored 33 runs from 220 deliveries in a test match-saving effort against Australia. 

AB De Villiers scores 126 vs Australia at Port Elizabeth in 2018
South Africa’s batsman AB de Villiers celebrates scoring a century during day three of the second Test cricket match between South Africa and Australia at St Georges Park in Port Elizabeth on March 11, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images)

The disparity in these two innings that vary in degrees of excitement is notable because it is a true indicator of the sheer range of the man’s abilities. Unlike many one day innovators who make the transition to Test Cricket, de Villiers possesses the technical soundness and mental fortitude to succeed. 

The South African showman can switch seamlessly between formats to the extent to which he can be considered a great in each, even had he not played a single game in the other two. 

Who is more adaptable?

In shorter format games he has the ability to carefully rotate the strike when the boundaries are not on offer. Plus AB De Villiers has the tactical nouse to recognise this quicker than all but a select few.

Then, once the bowlers stray, he has the power, hand-eye-coordination and bat speed to dispatch any ball into the bleachers with ease. Where he begins to diverge from the rest of the modern white-ball greats is his ability to dispatch any ball, good or bad, with consummate ease.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 27: Ab de Villiers of the Brisbane Heat bats during the Big Bash League match between the Melbourne Renegades and the Brisbane Heat at Marvel Stadium on January 27, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

The freakish ability to face six balls pitched in the same area yet hit them to six different parts of the ground mean that sooner rather than later, opposition bowlers and captains have no place to turn. 

Unparalleled Versatility

The second score here, 33 from 220 deliveries. This just goes to highlight the almost unparalleled range AB de Villiers has across the formats. This score was made in Australia in a game that is most famous for Francois du Plessis’ mammoth hundred on debut. South Africa held on in a rearguard draw.

This innings also included a less headline-grabbing runs total scored by AB de Villiers. Without this stubborn innings, unconcerned by aesthetics or statistics, at a strike rate of just 15, a draw would not have been possible. 

In test match cricket AB de Villiers scores 54 runs per 100 balls faced. This balance shows throughout his larger innings in the Test arena. His brilliantly sound defensive technique coupled with the freakish ability to find the gaps to rotate the strike leads to long innings. During which he can grind down oppositions with the best of them. 

Are there any criticisms of AB De Villiers?

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 11 : AB de Villiers of South Africa leaves the field after being run out during the ICC Champions Trophy match between India and South Africa at the Kia Oval cricket ground on June 11, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)

It is hard to believe but yes. It does seem to revolve around a similar criticism of another natural sporting genius in Lionel Messi, silverware.

There is a hint of criticism surrounding the fact that South Africa have not won a world cup during his career. Plus, he has not won the IPL despite playing in a top-four including Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli. Shane Watson too. Is this his fault, however?

It cannot be the fault of a batsman that RCB spends most of their budget on top order stars leaving no room for a good bowling attack. The poor bowling attack over the years means De Villiers’ runs have often been overshadowed. RCB has failed to defend totals. Even large totals. 

In conclusion  

The stats say that AB de Villiers is the most versatile player of all time. Kohli may be more ruthless, Gayle may be more brutal, but no one has de Villiers’ range. Couple this once in a lifetime ability with a cool head and brilliant hands (one of the best fielders of the 21st century) and you have a player the likes of which we will never see again.

The ‘G.O.A.T’ discussion is dominated by the likes of Sir Donald Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and with good reason. But it is time that AB de Villiers’ name is mentioned in the same breath as such players?

AB De Villiers scores 162 of 66 balls vs the West Indies at the 2015 Cricket World Cup at Sydney
outh Africa’s captain AB De Villiers hits 162 runs off 62 balls against the West Indies as South Africa make 408 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Sydney, Australia. Friday, 27th February 2012 (Photo: Steve Christo). (Photo by Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)

For now, cricket fans of all nations can consider themselves lucky to have witnessed his career. One thing is for sure – we will miss him when he is gone.

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