India's captain Virat Kohli has extended his support to de Villiers, who followed a lean IPL with just four runs from two matches at the Champions Trophy. "I actually empathise with him," Kohli said. "I go through this a lot as well - when you have set standards for yourself and then people get shocked."
He would know. Although Kohli's IPL was not as bad as de Villiers', he also did not enjoy prolific form, scoring 308 runs from 10 matches, less than half the tournament's leading run-scorer. Additionally, Kohli had to endure the travails of captaining Royal Challengers Bangalore as they finished last on the points table, with only three wins from 13 completed games.
Like de Villiers, Kohli takes his team's defeats seriously because he places the responsibility on himself to change the game. That's why, in what is effectively a quarter-final, Kohli expects de Villiers to step up to the challenge of trying to see South Africa through.
"He's by far the most committed cricketer I've ever seen around, and the reason for that is he is trying to do something extra for his team," Kohli said. "I know AB quite well, so I know the reason behind his mindset of playing like that."
And if de Villiers is in that frame of mind come Sunday, Kohli knows it will be difficult to stop him. "He can come out and when he's in the right frame of mind and it's his day and he's in the mood, then it doesn't matter what he has done in the past games or how many runs he has scored or not scored. If he decides to play the way only he can, you know you have to find a way to get him out pretty quickly."
The funny thing is that de Villiers feels exactly the same way about Kohli. Having played under him at the IPL, de Villiers has seen first-hand what Kohli can do to an attack. "He's a top-class player. He's difficult to stop when he gets going. So our plans will be around trying to unsettle him early on in his innings, like any other world-class batter," de Villiers said. "If you don't get them out early, they can do some damage. He just does it really well when he gets going. He can really hurt you, hurt your bowling attack and take the game away from you."
Rather than be wary of that approach, de Villiers hopes he can emulate it. "I love the way that he [Kohli] plays cricket. He's very competitive. He always likes to come out on top. That's the kind of approach that I also have with my cricket. I like to compete and try and contribute in order for the team to win."
The cut-throat competitiveness of most sportspersons may make them seem like much more hostile characters than they actually are. Such might be the case with Kohli too, but de Villiers described him as "just a good guy with a good heart", whom he respects "even more off the field than on it". Kohli praised de Villiers for his "character". If this was not such a crunch match, it will all seem a little too friendly but, behind the goodwill, are two men who will be desperate to win. After all, they lead two sides that no one expected to be in this position.
South Africa and India were shoe-ins for the semis before the tournament began, and de Villiers and Kohli were expected to be among the dominators. Instead, both teams are fighting for their place in the tournament and both men are coming off ducks in their most-recent match. It's little wonder both of them seem to properly understand each other.