De Villiers' star quality fading before our eyes

'No concerns about de Villiers' - Domingo (0:35)

South Africa head coach Russell Domingo talks about AB de Villiers' duck against Pakistan and the chances of him being fit for their next match against India (0:35)

Something seems off with AB de Villiers. No, it's not just that he hasn't cracked a smile since the tournament began, but he hasn't cracked on with bat in hand either.

Apart from terse pre-match media engagements, which have lacked the usual joie de vivre of a de Villiers interaction, he's also battled through brief stints at the crease and come out bloodied. De Villiers has scored just four runs in the first two matches and does not seem to have found his rhythm.

Against Sri Lanka, de Villiers was early on the pull against Seekkuge Prasanna and through the shot by the time the ball reached him. He could only lob it to cover. That stroke came four balls into his innings, so he had barely given himself time to assess conditions before going for glory. Here, at Edgbaston, de Villiers did not even wait that long. He went after the first ball he faced, a wide one from Imad Wasim, a spinner he has never seen, and scooped it to point to depart for his first golden duck in 212 ODI innings. It had to happen some day, that it came today tells a wider story.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, de Villiers' recent form is worrying. He only made two scores over 40 in nine IPL appearances and has crossed fifty once in five ODIs since. He has scored ten or less in half of those 14 innings and has been dismissed by a spinner seven times, a left-arm spinner three.

When Kevin Pietersen had a similar problem during his career, one of the theories was that he was playing more rash strokes against left-arm spinners because he did not trust his defenses enough. The trajectory of the ball meant that, if ever he was hit on the pad, he would be in danger of an lbw, so he had to go hard at everything. De Villiers seems to be doing something similar and has saved his blocking for the press conferences.

In the week since this event began, de Villiers has taken a noticeably cooler approach to questions, especially those about the opposition and how they may threaten South Africa. Asked whether he was wary of Lasith Malinga's comeback ahead of the opening game, de Villiers said he had "played thousands of games against him", and expected Malinga to be "the same kind of bowler who does the same things". Ahead of this game, referring to Pakistan's spin quartet, de Villiers dismissed half of them as "part-time", and said South Africa felt under "no pressure".

Very quickly, that was disproved. One of the 'part-timers', Mohammad Hafeez, bowled a full quota of 10 overs and removed Quinton de Kock. Immediately after that, South Africa lost de Villiers and then three more wickets for 27 runs, to leave themselves 118 for 6 with more than 20 overs remaining in their innings. They dragged themselves to a reasonably respectable total but many of the old wounds were reopened.

There was the lack of footwork from JP Duminy, the lack of muscle from the main men, and the lack of proper support for the one player who can hold his head high. David Miller has had the opposite run in England to de Villiers and has already made two scores of significance that suggest a coming of age for player who is converting precocious talent into something more. His 71 not out against England in Southampton came in a losing cause, chasing 331 and should have got South Africa over the line, but they choked.

His unbeaten 75 here was the difference between leaving the bowlers 150 to defend and giving them 220. Without Miller, South Africa would have been embarrassed; with him they were just inadequate.

And whatever the target may have been, de Villiers still has his problems in strategising the defence. His tactics still leave much to be desired, especially whenever South Africa are under pressure. After Morne Morkel's twin dents had checked Pakistan's runaway start, Imran Tahir and Chris Morris were pulling things back. The run-rate was under four and pressure was building.

But then de Villiers brought back Wayne Parnell, whose first two overs had cost 16 runs. With rain imminent, and given Morkel's success in his first spell, when he had struck twice in his second over, bringing back Parnell was at best hopeful, at worst an error. The fact that Morkel then struck with the second ball of his comeback over, to remove the well-set Mohammad Hafeez, rather underlined the point.

After six years as ODI captain, de Villiers still does not look entirely sure of himself. While there's nothing wrong with consultation, de Villiers' discussions with his bowlers are lengthy and can happen after every ball, when the heat is on. At the same time, Faf du Plessis, the Test and T20 skipper, can often be seen giving instructions of his own, independent of de Villiers, which raises questions about who is really calling the shots out there, not to mention who should be.

Public and expert opinion has swung towards du Plessis, who has shown himself to be the more adept decision maker but, in this format, de Villiers still carries the baton.

It remains de Villiers' dream to win a major trophy but, this time, it looks as though the stars are fading from his eyes.