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Analysing AB de Villiers' ideal batting position for South Africa

Analysing AB de Villiers' record at different batting positions for South Africa.

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Editor's Pick 24 May 2015, 10:17 IST
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AB de Villiers

After scoring a century for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) recently, AB de Villiers mentioned that he wanted to bat at the number 3 position in Twenty20 cricket and that he was enjoying playing there for his IPL side this season. This prompted a discussion on what is the best batting position for the supremely talented player and how South Africa could best utilise his batting abilities going forward.

Rated by many as the best batsman in the world currently, De Villiers has shown great versatility in his international career as he has batted in every position from 1 to 8 (in addition to often alternating between being the Proteas’ best fielder and donning the wicketkeeping gloves, and picking up an odd wicket or two with his medium pace bowling).

The 31-year-old, who can score at a phenomenal rate and take apart any bowling attack, holds the record of scoring the fastest 50, 100 and 150 in ODI cricket. And yet, when required to preserve his wicket, De Villiers batted out 220 deliveries and scored just 33 with a strike rate of 15 to help his side earn a thrilling draw from the jaws of defeat.

De Villiers made his Test debut as an opener in the 2004-05 series against England, and was promptly shunted down to number 7 and 8 in the following Test in a South African side which had recognised batsmen till number 9.

In the ODI series that followed, De Villiers made his ODI bow as an opener and regularly faced the new ball for his side till 2007, with some success – including a mixed bag at the 2007 World Cup where he scored a century, two fifties and three ducks!

After 2007, De Villiers rarely opened the batting for the Proteas and cemented his place in the middle-order, playing anywhere between number 3 and 6. His highest knocks of 278*and 162* in Tests and ODIs, respectively, have both come with him batting at number 5.

AB de Villiers’ ODI batting stats by position

AB de Villiers’ ODI batting career by position

Position Innings Runs Average Strike Rate Highest Score
Opener 33 1045 31.67 88.71 146
3 12 691 62.81 126.78 149
4 97 4468 53.19 95.00 136*
5 32 1689 84.45 109.39 162*
6 2 48 - 117.07 39*

As the stats show, De Villiers has been at his best when playing at number 4 and 5 in ODIs – where he has also played the most in his career so far. But he can also exert a huge impact at number 3 like he did in that incredible knock of 149 against West Indies, where he promoted himself up the batting order to build on the excellent start given by the openers.

AB de Villiers’ Test batting stats by position

AB de Villiers’ Test batting career by position

Position Innings Runs Average Highest Score
Opener 35 1265 36.14 178
3 2 93 46.50 68
4 2 128 64.00 84
5 66 3574 63.82 278*
6 50 2394 52.04 217*
7 5 90 22.5 46
8 2 62 62.00 52*

In Test cricket, De Villiers has played mostly at number 5 and 6 and he averages in excess of 50 at both positions. After the retirement of Jacques Kallis, he now brings in experience to the middle order along with Hashim Amla.  

What is the best batting position for a versatile player like AB?

As the stats show, De Villiers can play at almost any batting position and succeed in it. However, with the current group of players in the South African side, the best batting positions to be designated to AB would probably be number 4 in ODIs and number 5 in Tests – with the scope to change the batting order as and when required, of course.

AB de Villiers’ ODI batting record since 1 January 2014
Position Innings Runs Average Strike Rate Highest Score
3 1 149 149.00 338.63 149
4 15 782 55.85 108.61 136*
5 10 679 135.80 135.52 162*

With Amla and Quinton de Kock as openers in ODIs and Faf du Plessis coming in at one down, AB can come in at number 4 and either consolidate on the good start given by the top 3 and accelerate, or in case of their early dismissals, attempt to rebuild the innings.

Even though the recent numbers show that AB has done better at number 5 position, and South Africa have the option of playing someone like Rilee Rossouw/JP Duminy in the top 4 and shift AB to the role of a finisher, I feel AB will be able to help his team’s cause best by batting at number 4, with the powerful David Miller coming in lower down the order.

AB de Villiers’ Test batting record since 1 January 2014

Position Innings Runs Average Highest Score
5 14 779 55.64 152

Similarly in Tests, AB is suited to the No. 5 role as he can come in and score quick runs to complement the top four, in addition to batting intelligently with a relatively inexperienced lower middle-order. Coming in relatively lower down the order also helps De Villiers balance his wicketkeeping responsibilities.

South Africa’s batting order should be flexible

The South African team should try to make the best use of the outstanding batting talent of De Villiers and build the batting order around him in a manner which will also bring out the best of other talented batsmen like Amla, Du Plessis and Miller. While there should be designated batting positions, the team’s interests will be best served if the team management is ready to be flexible and change strategies as per the requirement of the situation – more so in ODIs.

De Villiers turned 31 not too long ago, and fitness permitting, he has many years of international cricket to offer to the Proteas in which he will continue his brilliant run-scoring (often with some outrageous shots!) and win many more matches for his team.

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