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The surfer and the sage

AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla take a run during their 221-run partnership AFP

Imagine if you could tell a man's batting style by the way he looked. Jacques Kallis would be dopey, Stuart Broad would be delicate and Charles Coventry would be a nudger and nurdler. Not so, of course. But in some cases it does apply. Yusuf Pathan is destructive, Younis Khan is thoughtful and Shane Watson is flashy.

It also worked for Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in their respective innings against the Netherlands. Amla, with his sagely beard and neatly perched glasses, was a patient planner while de Villiers, with his surfer blonde hair and cheeky smile, was fun-loving, mischievous and carefree. Together they put on the highest third-wicket partnership Mohali has seen in one-dayers, and although the statistic is a feat in itself, it was the way they went about crafting their respective innings that made each one so special.

Amla had to do the harder work. Conditions were tricky upfront, with moisture hanging in the air, a chilly breeze whipping through the ground and a patchy, two-paced wicket. He started off playing the game we've come to call his natural one, hitting flourishing fours on the off side and one luxurious pull to fine leg. While he was initially connecting well, he soon started edging more than he was middling and with Graeme Smith poking about awkwardly at the other end, he had no choice but to retreat and regroup.

Mudassar Bukhari was a different bowler to the one who had been so mercilessly torn into by West Indies and as he found better lines and lengths, the batsmen had to find better ways of seeing him off. He almost had Amla twice in the first ten overs, once when a bottom edge fell just in front of wicketkeeper Wesley Barresi and then when he reviewed an lbw shout only to prove the umpire's not-out verdict right.

As the sun came out, batting became easier and Amla started to settle. He still wasn't able to drive with great confidence and had to work the ball around, concentrating on his pushes. Jacques Kallis was under the same strain, driving away from the body, more like he was at the wheel of a rusty old Volkswagen Beetle that just did not want to get started than the seat of a sleek German sedan. When he nicked one down the leg side, three balls after the first two Powerplays were completed, de Villiers arrived at the crease with fresh eyes.

"I had to stick to my game plan more than usual because of the conditions. I wasn't actually that positive but I knew I had to focus on the basics more than normal," de Villiers said. His basics, when it comes to batting, include rotating the strike. Although he was able to sink his teeth into two wayward Ryan ten Doeschate deliveries, the bulk of his early time at the wicket was spent knocking the ball around.

For eight overs and four balls, de Villiers and Amla scrambled. As the ball got older and the conditions became more batsman friendly, the scramble became simpler. The gaps were there for puncturing, and the singles were offering themselves like water to a thirsty man. The flow tired Netherlands' bowlers and then the boundary balls started coming, almost one an over. When the bowlers tightened, de Villiers and Amla were back to small-steps mode. Push, run, dab it down, run two, nudge, run again, flick away, run two.

Between them, they scored 108 singles and 22 runs in twos. They got into a rhythm and it frustrated the opposition, while adding, little by little, to the nest they were building. "AB and Hashim played magnificently," Smith said. "We knew that we had to set up a base and once we did that we could attack."

The attack came in the batting Powerplay, as it rightly should, but hasn't always in this World Cup. It's been a five-over period where the batsmen have gone for shots they would otherwise keep for garden cricket with their mates and, in so doing, have fallen. Amla and de Villiers did otherwise. The former hung back a little, indicative of his whole innings, while the latter launched. He hit the first six of the innings in the 42nd over and then smashed three more.

It was unexpected for such flair to come from a man who had struggled in the nets in Delhi. "I didn't get a good net there, I think the practice facilities were quite tough," de Villiers said. Bad net, good knock it seems as he was seeing the ball like a balloon. "I think we paced it well and I felt I had the freedom to express myself."

Both de Villiers and Amla were dismissed in the Powerplay, but they added 69 runs and theirs were the only two wickets to fall. It set JP Duminy up for the cameo of his career, an audacious 40 off 15 balls. "If I could have played some of the shots JP played, I would have retired today," Smith joked. Duminy: there's another one who doesn't look like he bats - timid, meek and mild. Not at all.