Re­turn of su­per­hero AB

New­lands de­cider shap­ing up to be more than just the ‘De Villiers show’

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - ZAAHIER ADAMS

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.

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