How do you solve a problem like AB?
That's what Jason Holder has been wondering since the beginning of this year when West Indies played South Africa in a pre-World Cup series. SIx ODIs later, he still does not have an answer.
"It's a difficult question. He obviously scores around the ground. Whenever he gains momentum, he's difficult to stop," Holder said. "We tried to execute some yorkers and we just didn't land them. Having said that, he created room which most batsmen probably wouldn't have. I think we must give him credit. I mean, he's not in a sense an easy player to tie down."
At least Holder has understood the method behind de Villiers' madness. The man himself admitted the momentum is the one thing he looks at before he decides to take an innings from meandering to motoring.
"You get into that kind of mode, it doesn't happen very often, and it's quite a good feeling to sort of feel that you're one step ahead of the bowlers. I think that's the main thing. You get a really good gut feel for what they're trying to do," de Villiers said. "You work really hard to get yourself in, then you work really hard to get some momentum behind you, and then you've earned the right to sort of take a bit of control of the game."
The hard work was started by three of South Africa's top four but could have unravelled when Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis were dismissed in the same over. Rilee Rossouw had faced just one ball in the tournament when de Villiers got to the crease but his determination to prove he belongs lifted both batsmen.
"Rilee played a big part today in me getting off my feet. I didn't feel too well when I was walking out to bat, really flat, and he had a lot of energy about him, a lot of intensity," de Villiers explained. "He was getting into really good positions, making it look flat out there, which wasn't the case the previous 10 or 15 overs. So I fed a lot off him."
In Rossouw, de Villiers has a partner he can consider his equal, despite the gulf of international experience between them. "He's a very competitive individual. I'm also quite competitive, even though I don't always show it," de Villiers said. "We play little football games for warm-ups, and he's one of those guys you don't to be around when it gets tense. He's very, very competitive. I like to see that."
The more de Villiers saw that, the more he wanted to prolong his partner's stay at the crease. Between them, Rossouw and de Villiers were not targeting quick runs but longevity and in doing that, they unintentionally accelerated. "We always felt like we wanted to be there about the 45th over, both of us, or one of us at least, so having a go at the bowlers and trying to up the run rate was never part of the plan, it just happened because we are really aggressive players. We like to be busy at the crease."
When Rossouw went, de Villiers only got busier, as he sensed an opportunity to go big. All Holder could do was to "try and get him off strike." Instead, de Villiers tore into his last three overs, even though he said not all his big shots came out of the middle of the bat. "AB really took me apart," Holder admitted. "The platform was basically set for him so he played a free innings and unfortunately we didn't come up with answers today for him."
Few opposition bowlers do so journalists decided to ask one of de Villiers' team-mates whether he had an answer. "I'd probably bowl him a beamer or two... two beamers, and I'm out," Imran Tahir, the most successful bowler on the day, joked. "I'm just really happy that I'm playing with AB de Villiers and not against him. It's just a great honour to watch him every day in the nets. I'm just not saying that because he's next to me. I'm sure the whole world knows about him. He's just an unbelievable player; for me the best player in the century."