India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Ahmedabad, 2nd day April 4, 2008

Perfect execution

AB de Villiers timed his first Test double-century perfectly as he put the hosts to the sword to set up his team for a 1-0 lead

AB de Villiers handled the spinners with aplomb © Getty Images

AB de Villiers timed his first Test double-century perfectly as he put India to the sword to set South Africa up for a 1-0 lead. Having shot India out for 76 on day one, the visitors built on that emphatically on Friday as de Villiers, the dominant partner in a 256-run partnership with Jacques Kallis, ground India into submission.

South Africa have toured the subcontinent plenty of times recently, and those visits have given them invaluable exposure to the conditions here, helping their batsmen improve against spin. As he had in Chennai during a purposeful 44, de Villiers adjusted to the weather and the pitch, and wasn't afraid to get down and dirty. The reward was the best score by a South African against India.

All day he remained intent on mowing down India, without totally eschewing his natural instincts. India's rather peculiar decision to begin the day with Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan, under overcast conditions ideal for Sreesanth, allowed de Villiers leverage. Though Harbhajan began tightly, tossing the ball up as a true offspinner should, India's flat fielding and Anil Kumble's rather unimaginative captaincy helped de Villiers bat at his own pace.

The ball moved more than on the manic first morning and there was some uneven bounce, but nothing fazed de Villiers. Cuts past point and nudges off the pads further added to an already significant lead; Harbhajan's repeated cries of despair at a fumble at gully or a single converted to two thanks to a sluggish outfielder were a feature of the first session.

Sreesanth, who bowled a spirited spell after lunch, beat the bat and shot off his mouth but de Villiers responded in the best fashion - with a flick off his pads. Sreesanth bounced, de Villiers swayed comfortably; Sreesanth swung it, de Villiers covered off stump and left; Sreesanth slacked, de Villiers punched past mid-off, with the faintest of looks back to the bowler, who proceeded to appeal to the umpire about dissent.

He punctuated the moment with a skip and punch of the fists, fully aware of how important this innings was for his team and their quest to take the series © Getty Images

"The key to batting in the subcontinent is to have a good technique against spinners," said de Villiers after rain curtailed play with 12.4 overs to go. "The last few months I have worked hard on my technique and it is great to see the result. I just stuck to my basics. Jacques kept on motivating me with useful tips from the other hand."

Unlike Kallis, de Villiers played plenty of shots away from the body but never was he flirting with danger; even when he went for his preferred slap through the arc between point and gully he was always in control, especially against spin. Harbhajan's variations were picked with ease; a faster one was cut past slip and another steered superbly beyond the same position.

And then there was the shot to raise three figures, a cheeky walk across the stumps and paddle from outside off to fine leg for four. A raise of the bat - sweat dripping down his forearm - followed, eyes lifted to the skies, then the gesture to his team-mates, and finally a bear hug from Kallis, the best man to have at the other end given South Africa's motive.

As South Africa's lead neared 400 de Villiers opened his shoulders. The shot of the day was his one-legged six to deposit Harbhajan onto the roof, and a drive through extra cover got him his double. He punctuated the moment with a skip and punch of the fists, fully aware of how important this innings was for his team and their quest to take the series.

de Villiers remained modest despite his achievement. "This innings is close to my best. But the 97 that I scored against New Zealand at Centurion came under difficult conditions and I still consider that as my best. However, getting a double-century away from home will certainly be one of my favourites."

South Africa came here fully prepared and ready for anything the Indians threw at them. They had a plan, and de Villiers executed it almost flawlessly. The runs that de Villiers scored has put his team on the path to victory in this match; the manner in which he scored those runs is an ominous sign for the next Test as well.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo