The night belonged to young Sarfaraz Khan who struck 45 off 21 balls. All of 17 years, he took the attack head-on after the dismissals of the other big names – Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers. Then the rain gods rained on his parade. He watched from the pavilion as his 21 ball blitzkrieg would remain just a statistic and not a possible match-winning innings. But before all of that, did you see what AB de Villiers did? He walked in after the fall of Gayle’s wicket to the chants of ‘ABD… ABD’. Hey AB, how did a city a Southern India lose its heart to you? It isn’t hard to figure out the answer. Any city, country or person can lose their heart to ABD. He barely frowns. He’s only 31, but he’s already balding. But it’s pardonable to lose your hair if you’re the world’s best ODI batsman.
Have you seen what AB de Villiers does? He arcs his back and guides the ball to a boundary toward third man. He goes down on his knees to pacers and sweeps the ball toward fine leg for six. Did you know that balls could be swept for six? Not till de Villiers came and showed us how. In RCB’s match against Mumbai, Bangalore were chasing a mammoth 210. And on that very day, Chris Gayle decided not to turn up. Actually no one turned up. No one except ABD. After Chris Gayle’s painful stay at the crease yielded 10 runs off 28 balls, a travesty in t20 cricket and if you’re Chris Gayle, worthy of a life sentence, the chase needed a bolt of lightning. As long as ABD is around, hope springs eternal. Harsha Bhogle in commentary cautioned us about how much even he could accomplish. “He is a human being, not superman” he said of de Villiers. But of course, no one listened.
When de Villiers is at the crease, logic doesn’t take a backseat, it is stuffed into a gunny bag and buried in a shallow grave beneath the ground. It’s a crime not to believe that he can do it. The first three deliveries went for 4,6 and then a 4. 14 runs off 3 balls. So what if the required run rate was almost 15 runs an over, ABD can move mountains. His bat, a magic wand and he, a magician. Even the best bowlers lose their bearings when when he is on song. He stands at the crease, never still, always scheming. He moves across when the delivery has just been bowled. He arcs his back when the bowler thinks he is going to go across. Every shot has multiple options and sadly for the bowler, he gets just one delivery. There is no telling how many shots ABD has in his arsenal. He could charge down the pitch and hit the ball out of the ground even before the bowler has completed his follow through. Or he could reverse sweep a delivery for a six behind the wicket keeper. He is a man of multiple options.
De Villiers could have been any of the following – a fine rugby player, golfer or tennis player. If you were to test his DNA, will we find a new strand, one that shows an unusual propensity toward any sport that involves a ball? What if he chose golf and enthralled only a privileged few who had the patience and money to follow it? What if he chose rugby and we in India never knew that a person called AB de Villiers ever walked the face of the earth? A frightening thought. But he chose cricket and in doing so, cast a spell on all of us. Coming back to his wizardry against Mumbai. In the 13th over, Lasith Malinga got a taste of the ABD tonic. He tonked him for a six over cover. Then he whacked a six over midwicket. The crowd’s date with adrenaline had materialized. Then he ran two runs. Then he struck Malinga for two more fours, one behind the keeper and one to the cover boundary. 24 runs off the over. ABD’s score – 41 0ff 10 balls.
He should be the founder of Optimists Anonymous. You know the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? A pessimist looks at a required run rate of 1o.5 and says ‘good god, 10.5’! AB de Villiers looks at the required run rate at says ‘10.5? God must be kind’! Then Harsha Bhogle’s words of caution came to fruition. He tried to go for another mighty heave and holed out to Bumrah at long on. Optimism, hope, joy and adrenaline, all left the building along with him. In the match against Rajasthan Royals at the Chinnaswamy stadium, he struck James Faulkner for 3 consecutive boundaries in the fourth over to stir the cauldron of expectation. The chants of ABD again began to reverberate in the stadium. Bangalore’s honorary son had made himself feel at home. He reached his 50 and looked good to go all the way. The night is always young when he’s at the crease. Then came a moment where I witnessed first hand how great he really was. On 54, his partner at the other end was the fidgety Dinesh Karthik. If only you could insure yourself against a run out, something that is needed when Karthik is your partner, a lot of things will be fine with the world. But you can’t. And when he called for a suicidal single, de Villiers was initially hesitant. By that time, Karthik had covered more than half his ground. It would have been the easiest thing for de Villiers to run back and get Karthik run out. No one would have begrudged him that decision for in the toss up between him and Karthik, there is no question as to who is the better batsman. But he went for the run and even a valiant dive couldn’t save him the fate of a run-out. At the other end, Dinesh Karthik, who would himself be run-out a few overs later, threw his bat in frustration. On the way back to the dugout, de Villiers patted Karthik’s head. There were no no sour faces or heated exchanges. It happens, he seemed to be saying to Karthik. Forget about it, it’s not your fault. The greatest batsman of the modern era sacrificed his wicket for a player who last donned national colours nearly 2 years back. One of the costlier buys in this year’s season of the IPL at 10.5 cr, Dinesh Karthik has scarcely done justice to his price. And then he went and ran out AB de Villiers. That Sarfaraz lit up the night and the match got rained out was secondary. That one moment made me realize what champions are made of. A sense of selflessness, the knowledge that they aren’t bigger than the team or the game.
Every time AB de Villiers comes to bat, the floodgates of possibility are thrown wide open. Every unbelievable shot is followed by gaping mouths and faces that have awe scribbled all over them. And you say to anyone you can find “Did you just see what AB de Villiers did?”