Return of superhero AB
Newlands decider shaping up to be more than just the ‘De Villiers show’
ALL eyes will be on one man at Newlands tonight and he goes by the name of Abraham Benjamin de Villiers – or, as he’s known to the masses, simply “AB”.
South Africa have been waiting with bated breath for their superhero to return. A few fanatical souls made the trip to Benoni’s Willowmoore Park on Sunday to see De Villiers’ official comeback game after six months on the sidelines and they weren’t disappointed as the Proteas’ ODI captain smashing an unbeaten 134 off only 103 balls in the provincial fixture.
The Newlands faithful will be hoping this is only an appetiser from the man who once belted 149 from 44 balls – an innings that included 16 sixes, most of them breathtaking in their execution, and nine fours – in a one-day international.
Almost as excited to have De Villiers back in the fold for tonight’s series-decider against Sri Lanka is Proteas T20 skipper Farhaan Behardien. A self-confessed De Villiers groupie, Behardien “had the best seat in the house” during another “AB Special” at the 2015 World Cup against the West Indies at the SCG. Behardien said after that innings when De Villiers blitzed 162 off just 66 balls that “I think the crowd booed me when I got two” because they wanted to see some pyrotechnics from the former Proteas Test captain.
And that’s why Behardien is going to try to maximise De Villiers’ amazing talents. “High up … possibly three,” Behardien said when asked where he saw De Villiers in the batting order. “We want to give the best batters the most balls to face. If they face anywhere between 30-50 balls, they’ll be striking close to 200.
“He (AB) is one of the best T20 players in the world and one of the best batters in the world (in all formats). He’s been out for such a long time, he’s quite keen to be back and hungry for cricket. It’s unbelievable to have him back.”
For all the fanfare surrounding De Villiers’ return, the Proteas are sensible enough to know they will not triumph on the back of the 32-year-old’s amazing talents alone. Often De Villiers puts himself under too much pressure to transfer his exceptional abilities in the ODI and Test formats to T20 International cricket, which partially explains his belowpar T20I record of 1368 runs from 71 matches at an average of only 23.58.
It is for this reason that South Africa will need a collective effort to ensure the visitors don’t gain any momentum from winning this T20 series to take into the upcoming ODI series starting in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Today is a grand opportunity for a group of players who have primarily shone on the domestic stage to enhance their status at international level. Behardien certainly has the confidence that his group of players can rise to the occasion.
“It is essentially a final and with finals comes lots of pressure,” Behardien said. “Some players may be rookies in terms of international experience but they know their game. Jon-Jon Smuts and Aaron Phangiso are captains for their franchise teams, while a guy like Heino Kuhn has played top-flight cricket for more than a decade.
“There are a lot of leaders in this group. We’re keen to atone for the loss at the Wanderers.”
Sri Lanka will have to do without their own talisman, Angelo Mathews, after the skipper was among three players boarding the plane back to the island. Fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep and reserve batsman Danushka Gunathilaka are the other two injured players but it is the absence of Mathews that will be felt most by the visitors.
Stand-in captain Dinesh Chandimal was forced to admit that it was a “massive loss”.
It is shaping up to be more than just the “AB show”. Four-time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland dismantled Germany’s Mischa Zverev in a dominant display yesterday that recalled the Swiss master’s halcyon days. The ‘Fed Express’ took only 92 minutes to win 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 to reach his 13th Australian Open semifinal, where he will meet countryman and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka tomorrow. SEE PAGE 27.