ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

South Africa v West Indies, World Cup 2011, Delhi

de Villiers can play both roles

There has been speculation that AB de Villiers' new responsibility as wicketkeeper will affect his batting, but he actually averages higher when he is wearing the gloves than when he is not

Firdose Moonda in Delhi

February 25, 2011

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AB de Villiers got to a century off 97 balls, South Africa v West Indies, World Cup, Group B, Delhi, February 24, 2011
AB de Villiers drove South Africa's chase © AFP
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South Africa's bowlers emerged as the men who made it all happen in their World Cup opener against West Indies. The spinners were lauded, first for strangling the life out of the gasping West Indies and then plucking them one by one. Make it happen, they did, but make it all happen, they did not.

Four overs into the South African chase, someone else came out and made the rest happen. AB de Villiers walked to the crease with his team teetering on 20 for 2, with Sulieman Benn doing a similar job to the one Johan Botha did upfront, and with the knowledge that if another wicket went down it would give West Indies' bowlers a sniff of the inexperienced middle order and it may all go down in flames for South Africa.

He waited an over before facing a ball and when he did it was with the typical feistiness that audiences have become used to seeing from him. He rushed out of the crease to create a full toss of a normal Benn delivery. The result was one, the intention was many more. Of the next 12 balls he faced, four reached the boundary and he had, singlehandedly, released the pressure.

Graeme Smith was not feeling well, and between trying to breathe through his blocked nose and call from his hoarse voicebox, he welcomed not having to bear the responsibility of steering the innings as well. "AB played a fantastic knock, he is a great one-day player and I was able to just hang in there with him," Smith said.

By the time de Villiers got to 50, Smith had scored a laboured 32 off 56 balls. His batting was uglier than usual to watch and even he admitted it "wasn't the best" knock he has played, but with de Villiers doing the driving - both literally, to exquisite effect, and figuratively - Smith could allow himself to relinquish control. It was de Villiers who did the bulk of the work - the nudging and nurdling, the well placed sweeps and fine dabbles and lashing out when necessary while Smith poked, pushed prodded and occasionally inside edged.

"He played like a senior player," Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, said after the match. He didn't elaborate much but what he probably meant was that de Villiers was the one who first wrestled the match away from them and then strategised on timing the victory. It was his way of saying that de Villiers was the big daddy on the night and de Villiers' knock was his way of showing, yet again, that he is capable of doing the job of wicketkeeper and being one of the best batsmen in the side.

Corrie van Zyl, the South Africa coach, always knew that de Villiers would have no problem with the dual role. "I don't think there has been any doubt in our mind or in AB's mind that he can do it. Other people have had doubts," he said. "We understand that it's not easy but it is something that AB is willing to do."

The decision to use de Villiers in the role that previously belonged to Mark Boucher has faced a barrage of criticism with some saying that it robbed of the team of its best fielder at point, while others that it will affect his prowess with the bat if he has to hold the gloves as well. He has proved, for the fifth time since taking over as one-day wicketkeeper that that is simply not true.

In 27 of his 115 ODIs, he has been the wicketkeeper and has an average one-and-a-half times better than his average when he doesn't have the responsibility of carrying the gloves. He has scored 10 centuries in his one-day career, five of them in the 27 matches in which he has been the wicketkeeper. Three of them have been against Zimbabwe and two against West Indies, the context of which may make that statistic look a little less impressive, but he also has an unbeaten 82 and a score of 60 against Australia in the role of wicketkeeper batsman. It may still take a big innings against tougher opposition before the detractors will be willing to admit defeat, and at the rate de Villiers is going, that knock isn't far off.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 8 
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Posted by Tharushan on (February 27, 2011, 0:04 GMT)

AB de villiers quitely goes about his business and before you know it he's raising his bat for a century!=)

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 7:44 GMT)

wonderful knock by AB brillient to watch

Posted by Amahl on (February 26, 2011, 7:18 GMT)

AB is one of the most dynamic batsmen in the modern game and frankly, I never doubted his ability to juggle both roles. I have never understood how players have been weighed down by both roles. All other 10 men on the field have a large role as well. This has been a trend which has really only come about in the last few years and I don't personally agree with the likes of McCullum et al. who seemingly feel 'pressured' by WK and batting. This was something that never even occurred to the great keepers of yesteryear. Gilchrist's influence has been pivotal here, although he has forced teams to think about selecting a good batsman as their keeper, teams have prioritised batting over wicketkeeping whilst players have done the same. In AB's case, I don't think the prospect of the wicketkeeping role weighing him down has occurred to him at all. As someone stated, I too would prefer to see him in the infield considering what a brilliant fielder he is. But he makes for a very tidy keeper.

Posted by g on (February 26, 2011, 7:02 GMT)

I thought Smith played extremely well, given the situation. I was hoping for SA win and it was pleasing to see him willing to stay with AB. His partnership was the crucial factor in taking the game away from WI. Just as Ganguly said in Extra Cover, Smith's innings is a positive sign. Good to see him spend some time out in the middle.

Posted by Sanjiv on (February 26, 2011, 6:40 GMT)

Brilliant knock. However, I'd rather see Van Wyk behind the stumps since De Villers would be better as an outfielder.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 26, 2011, 4:48 GMT)

A younger, trimmer Arvinda, I'd assume?

As for AB's dual role, I can't see the the impact on his batting is the issue. He may well bat better when he plays keeper, who knows? (There may be other reasons for his apparent improvement in form besides where he fields).

The bigger issues, surely, include whether our best outfielder should be behind the stumps, and whether he's a good enough keeper. The latter worry is the most important. I don't like Boucher all that much, but having someone as good as him behind the stumps is always a comfort for the team, and having his middle order experience - particularly in the sub-continent - would ease concerns that our tail is too long and fragile.

Posted by Amol on (February 26, 2011, 2:16 GMT)

De Villiers is the next Gilchrist

Posted by vikram on (February 25, 2011, 16:34 GMT)

What a cricketer? Probably the best one day batsman at present. His footwork is just amazing. Reminds me of Arvinda De Silva, another great man .

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