World T20 2016 March 17, 2016

SA buoyed by de Villiers' Wankhede affair

AB de Villiers powered to a 57-ball century the last time he played in Mumbai © Associated Press

Wankhede Stadium. Twenty20 centuries. AB de Villiers 1- Chris Gayle 1.

While Gayle grooved his way to an undefeated hundred in his first T20I game at the venue on Wednesday, de Villiers' T20 ton, a frenetic 59-ball razzle dazzle, had come last year in an IPL game here. The reason why it seems like a faint speck in the memory vault is because of what de Villiers did in his next match at the Wankhede five months later.

In October last year, de Villiers' 119 off 61 balls helped South Africa rack up 438, beat India by 215 runs and clinch the ODI series 3-2. That knock even proved to be the trigger for a tiff between India's team director, Ravi Shastri, and the curator.

England's bowlers have the unenviable prospect of dealing with Gayle and de Villiers inside three nights. If de Villiers lines up an appropriate riposte to Gayle's masterclass, they could be at the receiving end of his third successive hundred in Mumbai. Jos Buttler felt they were "two great players," and that de Villiers's relatively wider range of shots was offset by Gayle's power.

In contrast, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis did not dwell too much upon their contrasting styles, but weighed in on what made de Villiers the dangerous batsman he was. "The fact that what makes him [AB] so good is he doesn't rely on one or two areas," du Plessis said. "And generally that comes with more on difficult wickets. As a batsman the more options you have [the more] you can be successful."

He also drew parallels in the way both the batsmen went about plundering runs in unhurried fashion. "Obviously Chris has been a master T20 batsman out for a while. All the IPLs here, he has worked hard when to go and when not to go," he said. "That [being in the zone] happens a lot more [to him] than it does for us normal people. That's his key as a batsman. You can almost hear from the side when it is coming. He just sits and waits, and at the specific bowler on the day he targets him.

"But [Gayle and de Villiers are] two completely different players, and both need the same [qualities], I suppose, to succeed. There has to be an element of setting yourself up as a batter. You never really see Chris go from ball one and start smashing. That's the same with AB. He plays at his best when he assesses the conditions and sees what the bowlers are all about and when he gets that sniff he becomes really hard to bowl to."

South Africa have won only one of the four ODIs they have played at the Wankhede and will be playing their first T20I at the venue on Friday before taking on Afghanistan on Sunday. But du Plessis has pleasant recollections of the stadium as well, having scored a century along with de Villiers the last time South Africa played here. He reckoned it was the best place to launch their campaign given the similarities of its conditions with those back home, and that spinners might not have a big say.

Faf du Plessis - "Wankhede is so much very close to our conditions back home so it's a great place to start" © AFP

"Wankhede is so much very close to our conditions back home so it's a great place to start, obviously the people, great crowd. I suppose you can compare it to the Wanderers in South Africa. Not a lot of our guys would have had the opportunity to play T20 cricket on a stadium like this, so we are really.

"I do feel that this is one of the grounds in India where there is a bit in it for the bowlers as well. There is a bit of bounce, bit of swing, ball travels, the wicket is good. The spinner is not as much as in the game as they would be in other grounds in India. We had a warm-up game here and we have a pretty good idea what will work."

In the lead-up to the World T20 South Africa have alternated between Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock to open with de Villiers. Du Plessis admitted he had not worked out exactly what combination to field on Friday, and said the batting order was unlikely to remain the same throughout the tournament. "I have to look at different grounds and different conditions and see almost where the danger period of the game lies in and where it is the easiest time to bat," he said.

"For me the most pleasing thing is the fact that we have got guys in form. We have said before that we will try and adapt our batting line up to see which guys are in form and try and put them into different places. I don't think it will be fixed in the World Cup. Obviously it's different playing our first two games here at Wankhede and then we are in to Nagpur which is obviously a completely different wicket. Then we will have to see if we want to change our batting line up."

Du Plessis was also quite satisfied with South Africa's white-ball form going into the tournament, despite losing the T20 series against Australia. "If you have guys in form it generally takes stress off your performances as individuals and players. Generally 90-95 percent of the squad feels like they are playing really good cricket," he said.

"We have been consistent as a team, I think we are No.2 in the world now. For me it's really important when you come to these [tournaments] you have to put yourself as one, two or three. That shows you are consistent. The teams that have won the World T20s have been sides that have been right up with their performance throughout the year or two leading up to the tournament."

He was, however, wary of potential banana peels in their way after what happened to India against New Zealand in the opening match of the Super 10s, and said South Africa could ill afford to be complacent given the brevity of the tournament. "You can never ever disrespect any other team no matter how small they might look. I certainly learned the hard way in the 2011 World Cup. New Zealand looked like they were the minnows, they didn't play their best cricket and they smashed us in the quarterfinal. I have learnt that never again you can look at a team like that."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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