It proved a rhetorical thought. The tense match situation liberated de Villiers. All it took was Hashim Amla to fall, the situation to get almost out of control, and suddenly, the imposter was gone. Even as he lost Dan Vilas, who lasted just three deliveries, he signalled his intent with couple of fours off R Ashwin’s penulitimate over before lunch. And with Vernon Philander falling soon after the break, de Villiers decided it was time to impose himself. So if the first 45 balls of his innings saw him concentrating on the offside, the next 30 odd balls would see him targetting the leg side.
The quick feet, and awe-inspiring brain was back in action. He would almost jump out to sides to create his own line and started to make the spinners sweat. A reverse sweep scattered the field, a slog sweep pushed the men back, a peach of an inside-out drive over covers left the bowler scratching his beard, but it was the numerous side-steps that led to cuts and pushes for singles and twos that showed his skills to create his own line and length.
In between the fall of Philander and Dale Steyn, de Villiers would only hit two boundaries but showed that Indian spinners needed a lot of patience to grab his wicket. Here is how R Ashwin described de Villiers’ knock : “Some of the shots that AB played today were outstanding and you just clap and make sure that you bowl some good balls next and bowl with patience. It’s about actually getting or asserting the control over the batsman and trying to get a false stroke especially if the batsmen are Amla, AB or Faf. So it’s very important that you keep control and be really patience.”
Eventually, he fell, failing to judge the length and pace of a legbreak from Amit Mishra, probably distracted by the need to keep strike. Ashwin was left ruing the missed chances early in de Villiers’ knock, but also talked about his attacking mindset when he bowls to de Villiers. “I think it was not very different, even in the ODI’s I was bowling attacking length and line. I thought I could have him anytime during the three overs I bowled to him earlier during the innings. I was in the middle of a good spell and it would have been nice if I picked up his wicket. I thought I had him once,” added the spinner.
With India already ahead by 142 runs with eight wickets in hand, South Africa would again rely heavily on de Villiers in the fourth innings. They know that an extra 30-40 runs by their vice-captain would have given them a better chance but now they would need another special effort by de Villiers in the second innings.” As South Africa’s spin bowling coach Claude Henderson put it: “It’s going be difficult. It’s not going to be easy for us in the remaining part of the match. I do not know, I think we need wickets tomorrow . They are 142 runs ahead and we need wickets to put them under pressure. Anything above 200 will be challenging and it will need a special effort. I have seen this team doing some extraordinary things and I am sure they are capable of doing that. The good thing is there is lot of time left in the match and anything can happen.” For anything to happen, much of it needs to come from that man de Villiers.