Over the past few years, there has been an aura of invincibility around AB de Villiers, especially in white-ball cricket and more specifically, in the Indian Premier League. Plying his trade for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the South African has pulled numerous victories out of the fire and made people question the basic laws of physics and of course, batting.
In fact, that was true till the first half of the 2021 edition of the IPL, where de Villiers, despite batting on the sluggish tracks at Chennai, found a batting gear others couldn’t even dream of. The shots around the dial were back and his ability to out-think the bowler remained unparalleled.
Since then, though, de Villiers has uncharacteristically undergone a string of low scores – something that has coincided with the forced IPL hiatus and the shift to the UAE. Not only has de Villiers not been able to scale the lofty standards he has set for himself, there has been a bit of tentativeness around his batting.
For those wondering, the South African has rarely looked flustered during his IPL stint at RCB. Even on days when things haven’t worked out, he has looked to dominate and hasn’t looked out of sync. Now, though, there are fleeting glimpses that everything might not be right with de Villiers.
Under ordinary circumstances, this could be attributed to being a blip on a road that has largely been bereft of obstacles in the past. The other factors, however, have just cast a slight cloud over his abilities.
Again, de Villiers might make everyone who questioned him look like a fool by the time IPL 2021 winds up but it would also be unfair to completely shy away from the evidence on offer.
Over the past few years, when de Villiers has cast himself as the premier T20 batter, he has largely relied on his characteristic of picking length early. In turn, that has allowed him to get into all sorts of positions – positions that ultimately enable him to be the 360-degree batter capable of wreaking havoc.
In the UAE, though, de Villiers has been a touch late in picking up the length. According to statistics, the right-handed batter has only scored 95 runs in 7 innings at a strike rate of 125. In contrast, he struck at a shade over 164 runs per 100 balls and amassed 207 runs in the India leg of the IPL.
AB de Villiers has huffed and puffed in the UAE leg
In the first game in the UAE itself, the South African was completely outfoxed by Andre Russell when the latter breezed a yorker through his defences. Not only was de Villiers not expecting that kind of length, he was awfully late on the stroke.
Against the Chennai Super Kings, Shardul Thakur hustled him into his lofted cover drive. The ball pitched on a back of a length, meaning that that shot was never a percentage option. Yet, de Villiers continued with the stroke and spooned a simple catch to Suresh Raina.
Against the Mumbai Indians, too, a similar script materialized. This time, Jasprit Bumrah hurried a back of a length delivery onto the South African, meaning that he could only get a feather on his attempted slash.
On 6th October too, when RCB clashed swords with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, de Villiers didn’t seem himself. Though most of it could be down to him batting lower down the order, he still had enough “hittable” balls that he didn’t capitalize on.
Remember the last over Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been lauded for since? It had three full tosses outside off stump – de Villiers was late on each one of them.
The biggest indicator, though, might have been the game against the Delhi Capitals. With Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada steaming in, de Villiers just couldn’t get into positions early enough to impose himself.
He always seemed a split second late into whatever he did and while that didn’t really affect his run-scoring severely (he scored at run-a-ball), it eventually led to his downfall.
Interestingly enough, Axar Patel managed to deceive de Villiers by bowling a flatter but relatively fuller delivery. The South African played the trajectory rather than the length and spliced a pull stroke straight down Shreyas Iyer’s throat at deep mid-wicket.
Thus, there is perhaps just enough to suggest that age might just be catching up with de Villiers and that he might not be at the peak of his powers – something in contrast to how the first half of the IPL was playing out.
To elaborate further, de Villiers has suddenly not become a bad batter overnight and it would be naïve to hint that he will not produce a substantial performance in the near future.
Yet, if he is really having trouble picking up length early, it could cause a massive ripple effect, considering a lot of his strokes are reliant on getting into positions quickly and then making the most of his hand-eye coordination.
For ordinary batters, the delay in picking up the length might not mean much because, well, they don’t try extravagant shots anyway. For someone like de Villiers, it completely puts off his timing and that is one of the primary reasons why most of his dismissals in the UAE leg have come when the ball has hit the higher part of the bat.
Again, de Villiers can throw the aforementioned logic out of the window, rock up in the play-offs and single-handedly lead RCB to IPL glory. He can even produce an innings for the ages and ensure that the RCB faithful end their hoodoo, for all we know.
The difference, though, is that this time out, there are a few human flaws that have crept into de Villiers’ system – flaws that were unimaginable considering his previous aura of invincibility and of course, the immortality attached to his legend.
It might not be much but when a seemingly perfect individual has had his frailties exposed, it could be quite a lot!