Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL 2017, Mumbai May 1, 2017

A crack in AB de Villiers' game

A once seemingly impervious T20 batting machine has encountered an increasingly common amount of difficulties at the hands of Krunal Pandya

Krunal Pandya has had AB de Villiers' number over the last two years of the IPL © BCCI

There were instances in the early part of AB de Villiers' career where he was continually harried by pace. A Shaun Tait thunderbolt ricocheted off a bottom edge into de Villiers hip during a T20 international at the MCG in 2009, the pain so excruciating that de Villiers fell back towards his stumps to be out hit wicket before writhing on the ground in pain.

Then came his struggles in Tests against Stuart Broad, who has dismissed him 10 times, the most by any bowler in the five-day format. Broad's nagging length around off stump and his ability to move the ball both the ways constantly threatened both of de Villiers' edges. Eight of his 10 dismissals against Broad have been a result of him being beaten on either edge. In between, he dominated almost all other bowlers in all formats, up until 2016.

Cut to April of last year and the seeds are being sown for a new vulnerability of the seemingly impervious de Villiers. Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma asked Krunal Pandya, a tidy left-arm spinner playing his third IPL match, to bowl to Virat Kohli and de Villiers at the Wankhede Stadium. The plan was clear: land the ball on a fuller-than-good length, avoid too much flight and keep his line straight. If there was natural variation from the surface, Krunal had the chance of beating de Villiers on either edge. Krunal, wary of de Villiers' quick feet, dragged back that length to beat his outside edge with one that spun to have him stumped. Strike one.

In the reverse fixture at Chinnaswamy Stadium three weeks later, Krunal came up against de Villiers again, but his modus operandi didn't change: flat, quick, straight. De Villiers had scored four singles off four balls before attempting to put Krunal off that template. Extra bounce and pace resulted in a catch at deep midwicket. Strike two.

Back at the Chinnaswamy Stadium this season, de Villiers was afforded nothing by Krunal - no width on either side, nor was he too slow or too quick. De Villiers' natural instinct batting at No. 3 in T20s is to attack, even against a bowler he hadn't quite figured out. When he tried to dominate, he was reprieved when Jos Buttler dropped a relatively simple catch at deep midwicket. Not too long after, de Villiers set out to hit Krunal over the off side, but was caught at cover. Strike three. At this point, Krunal had bowled 22 balls at de Villiers and conceded 18 runs.

Left-arm spin v pace against de Villiers in IPL
Type Boundaries SR Ave
 Pace  311  158  43.36
 Left-arm spin  53  133.66  43.27

On Monday at the Wankhede, de Villiers got on top of Krunal. He knew he couldn't use his feet with Krunal's quick pace and flat trajectory. So he played around in the crease, shuffling and backing away, to hit 21 runs off 10 balls before top-edging a sweep to short fine leg, again undone by extra bounce. It was the fourth time De Villiers was dismissed by Krunal in four innings, his worst record against a bowler in T20s. Royal Challengers have lost all four games.

It was a contest won by a stubborn, unwavering bowler against a batting superstar. Other bowlers have struggled to improvise against de Villiers, but Krunal hasn't had to because of his flawless execution. De Villiers banked on a subsequent error - in line, length or pace - if he managed to put Krunal off his length. That has been de Villiers' successful process against several accurate bowlers in limited-overs cricket, and it has worked to devastating effect. In a bid to force Krunal into a mistake, de Villiers has tried to go inside-out over cover or heave over midwicket at some point in each of his four dismissals to Krunal.

A longer format allows de Villiers to suss out the consistency of a bowler by looking for other options, but T20 cricket doesn't afford that luxury. De Villiers succeeded for a few balls on Monday, but Krunal, aware of his limitations and de Villiers' intent, backed his own successful method.

AB de Villiers vs spin types in T20Is & IPL, since 2016
spin type Dis SR Ave
 v left-arm orthodox  5  133.33  39.20
 v other spin types  7  172.28  40.85

Stalling de Villiers with left-arm spin hasn't been limited to just Mumbai though. In T20Is and the IPL since 2016, de Villiers' strike rate against left-arm spin is just 133.33, compared to his strike rate of 172.28 against other spin.

Prior to IPL 2016, de Villiers had scored just 286 runs off 222 balls against left-arm spin at a strike rate of 128.88, with just eight sixes. Against pace in the same phase, de Villiers hit 74 sixes with a strike rate of 155.33. In all T20Is, de Villiers has scored 222 runs off 195 balls with a strike rate of 113.84 against left-arm spinners, with six dismissals.

De Villiers hasn't been dismissed often against left-arm spin - 11 times in 116 IPL innings - but many teams may finally have their solution of how to stall, or stop, de Villiers when he decides to attack.

Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Viren on May 4, 2017, 9:38 GMT

    I really do not see what the big hype around the Pandya brothers is about. Both are inconsistent club level cricketers, at best. I think that Krunal may be slightly more talented than Hardik though...

  • Cricinfouser on May 4, 2017, 7:18 GMT

    The superstar is on the wane

  • sdpak99095190 on May 3, 2017, 14:17 GMT

    BLAHBLAH1234567 Oh !!! I hav no idea about cricket? Says someone who is a die hard fan of golf hitter 360. One thing is clear Sehwag also has a test average of 50. Obviously Sehwag and ABD falls in close your eyes and rotate the wood hard category. Between you might have cried along with AB after 2015 SF. Still hurts right?

  • blahblah1234567_9F5B2346-4AB1-446E-A1A0-77E2268CE43B on May 3, 2017, 12:18 GMT

    PUNTER140* ON MAY 3, 2017, 5:08 GMT --- Lol, jog on mate, clearly you have no idea about cricket and what a 50 average in both ODIs and tests mean.

  • ARVIND on May 3, 2017, 11:33 GMT

    Krunal is a better batsman than Axar and Axar is a better bowler than Krunal. In shorter format for positions 7 & above, Krunal is a better choice whereas for positions 8 & below, Axar is a better option. Both Krunal & Axar no match to Jadeja's Test match bowling skills.

  •   Cricinfouser on May 3, 2017, 10:07 GMT

    ABD is a good batsman. It doesn't mean that he will remain in the same form for ever. Each and every player has a good time and a bad time. It is the same story of Gayle, Watson etc. They were superb in the previous IPL but they are really suffering this season. Young bowlers are dominating and some batsmen are facing problems with some bowlers. We cannot exclude ABD from this problem. Some good batsmen are prone to make mistake against certain bowlers. This could be a psychological impact. One thing is sure. KP bowled well in all his matches especially against ABD. That is why Rohit is bringing him to bow whenever ABD is in the crease.

  • sdpak99095190 on May 3, 2017, 5:08 GMT

    BLAHBLAH1234567 I wonder the way in which you polish out AB's failures. "KP bowled defensively" - Dude that's the length in which quality t20 spinners bowl. And by saying defensive length also still KP is not scared of AB. He continued 4 overs at a go to make sure his job is done (To catch bunny) "Somehow AB fails" - Why somehow everytime. Had there been enough flight in those balls AB might hav nailed them. But KP bowled cunningly, so AB failed. "Millenium ago" - So what ? At any point of time did he say sorry for not walking off? Of course he has no need to. But what he did was not within the spirit of game. Ur legend can do something against the spirit then why can't a random guy do that? Its mere 50 oly - In tests he has not dominated great bowling attacks. Everytime Smith Amla Kallis scored AB was hitting without pressure. Post Kallis Smith retirement Amla started failing and then AB started failing even miserably. "Mumbai crowd" - Ind sympathize for every good SA player

  • blahblah1234567_9F5B2346-4AB1-446E-A1A0-77E2268CE43B on May 3, 2017, 4:14 GMT

    PUNTER140* ON MAY 3, 2017, 0:02 GMT -- Its not like KP has dominated AB, he's just bowled defensivley and for some reason AB has a hard time hitting him. Its not like hes been breaching AB's defenses. So? If he doesn't walk once which was his mistake like a mellenium ago that means he deserves a send off from a random bloke like Pandya. Can you imagine a rookie indian spinner who hasn't even internation cricket giving a send off to someone like a Kohli or a tendulkar? I'm from a place where senior players are respected. These players deserve respect. "Mere 50" you say, can you do any better? He has played almost 100 tests before taking that break, he was one of SA's best batsmen in India. The guy has a family to tend to and SA are doing well without him. Its funny you know because the Mumbai crowd (known to be harsh) that is famous for booing even Sachin (once, ridiculous) were screaming ABs name. The send off was nothing to extreme but it was classless.

  • razoon7261087 on May 3, 2017, 1:16 GMT

    i think other teams should take note of this & use this as tactic, Krunal is a good bowler & he is smart too

  • sdpak99095190 on May 3, 2017, 0:02 GMT

    BLAHBLAH1234567 Mate !!! This is t20. Spinners do bowl full and wide and try to reduce run rate and there by making the batsman take risk and get him out. This is nothing new. Drastic changes are seen in Harbhajan's bowling length after playing t20. But that's how u play t20. If Broad bowls traditional test match deliveries in t20 he will be smashed all over like last yr bbl So, mishitting KP adds to failure of AB. If u remember Chinnaswamy match this year, AB mistimed KP once and he was dropped, he nearly dragged on to stumps twice and finally got out caught. He did struggle against KP. 4 out of 4 is no joke.

    And what's the big deal in sending off. I donno which place you are from. But if u hv avg of 50 in tests and odis shuldn't u be given send off? And ABD has a mere 50 avg in tests. He stopped playing tests when team needed him most. If he is still playing tests that averaged would hv gone below 50. once AB edged to slip and didn't even walk off against Ind. He deserves send off

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