de Villiers delivers yet again
At 1.35pm on a sunny Saturday, when Jacques Kallis flicked Jaidev Unadkat to set right one of the biggest statistical anomalies of our time, something more instructive happened at the other end. AB de Villiers, already two double-centuries to his name in less than half as many Tests as Kallis, raised his arms even before he finished running the first run. de Villiers knew it had been flicked fine of fine leg, and reacted as if he had himself reached the double-century. de Villiers has always been like that, with the bat, in the field, behind the stumps, keeping the spirits up, as happy for his team-mates as they are for themselves, just being Jonty Rhodes.
And it wouldn't be wrong to say that he had a part to play in Kallis' smooth progression from 102 overnight to 201 not out - 62 more than the latter had ever added to an overnight score of 100 or more. Kallis acknowledged that at the end of the play. It was fantastic. "He took the pressure all off me," Kallis said. "I could carry knocking it around. One of the best knocks I have seen . An absolute honour to stand at the other end and watch it. To see how far he has come in his career, and how he has developed as a player, he has got the consistency now, which is something we all work towards. So fantastic innings again."
de Villiers is no stranger to stomping on the Indian attack when it has already been ground into dust. He did that in Ahmedabad in 2008, in almost similar circumstances. The six he hit off Harbhajan Singh - falling over as he smashed it - onto the roof of the stadium is one of the biggest seen in India. He is just the No. 5 you want when you are dominating and looking for a declaration.
It can be boring to come out with your team 200 ahead, and with little personal challenge out there. The fields are spread, the bowlers are trying to stop runs and not take wickets, and the game is meandering towards a declaration. It can be a bit boring for the crowd too. Not with de Villiers around. He takes the domination to a next level, challenging himself to score fast, beating the deep fields. He also keeps the crowds involved, and sets up declarations. And going by the way India went in their second innings, South Africa needed as many spare runs and as much spare time they could get.
India would have looked to establish some control and check the flow of runs once they got Hashim Amla out fairly early in the day, but with de Villiers around they started haemorrhaging. He made you watch a spell of play when you would normally switch the TV off and run some errands. And it started with a copybook straight push-drive. Then he unleashed the cut, both through square and in front of it. The pick, though, was the sweep of both varieties. One of the reverse-paddles, played so fine as to beat the fine short third man, sent Harbhajan into a curse-feast. If the fielders were dejected already, now they were dejected and running helter-skelter.
So fast was de Villiers that no anxiety was felt around Kallis' double. He could coolly keep chugging along at the other end. Kallis was 107 when de Villiers came out to bat. de Villiers took a few deliveries to settle down, then started hitting, and by the time he reached 105 with back-to-back sixes, Kallis had added only 47. From 93 to 99 de Villiers went with a six over midwicket. MS Dhoni bucked his trend of letting batsmen get to centuries with singles to long-off and long-on, and brought the whole field up. Didn't make no difference. The next ball was in de Villiers' striking zone, and he went over midwicket again, to become the fastest South African centurion, to follow up on having scored the highest individual innings by a South African, in the previous Test.
At the time of writing this, about half an hour at the end of the third day's play, there was thunder and lightning in the air, and the Indians had put up some sort of fight. If it becomes a matter of time in the end, and if South Africa do manage to finish this one off, they will know who to pat in the back.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo