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Talking Points: What makes de Villiers the best at the death?

What's changed for Maxwell, and are the Knight Riders wasting Shakib?

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Talking Points from the match between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Kolkata Knight Riders in Chennai om Sunday.
What makes de Villiers a great death-overs batter
There are over 200 players who have faced more than 30 death-overs deliveries over their IPL careers. AB de Villiers stands above all of them. The undisputed No. 1. The phenom. The punisher more than just a finisher with a strike rate of 233.97.
How does he do it? How does he come in at the 12th over of a T20 and hit an unbeaten 76? How does he come in at the 39th over of an ODI and score a hundred?
Well, for one, there's his balance. After a shuffle across his stumps and a crouch, he is perfectly still until the ball comes down, which opens up every part of the ground.
Second, he tries not to premeditate. Sure, he walks across his crease when he scoops and everything, but for the most part, he just reacts to the ball.
"I follow my instincts," de Villiers said in 2016 after leading a badly, laughably crumbling Royal Challengers into the IPL final. "I try and watch the ball closely. I've played the game for many years now and I know my talent will take over if I just watch the ball and enjoy myself out there."
For proof of those words, take a look at ball number 17.5 from the Royal Challengers innings today. It's from Andre Russell. So it's quick. He's also coming around the wicket, so it's cramping him for room. Plus, there's the added complication of it being a high full-toss.
But de Villiers' instincts have already kicked in. They tell him to just get low. And to bend to the leg side so he would have room to thrust his hands up from under the ball. And just like that, he conjures a boundary out of nowhere.
Instinct. And de Villiers' is still the best.
What's changed for Maxwell?
On a pitch where it has never looked easy to time the ball. Glenn Maxwell at one point was 60 off 34. That's a strike rate of 176.47
Royal Challengers bought him with the intention of making him one of their key players. They gave him the No. 4 spot - even if it meant fewer deliveries for de Villiers, arguably their biggest match-winner. He has slotted into the leadership group as well, often seen in discussions with Kohli on the field.
All of this is exactly how he plays for Australia. They bat him high up the order. They give him extra responsibility. They get the best out of him.
In T20Is, Maxwell has batted at No. 5 or lower in only 19 of his 65 innings. That's about 29%.
In the IPL, he's been forced to bat at No. 5 or lower in 31 of his 82 innings. That's 37%.
The finisher hype had messed him up in previous seasons of this tournament. Now he's been given time to shape a whole T20 innings and he's risen to the challenge. Big time.
Why is Chakravarthy dangerous?
A man who taught himself to bowl by watching Sunil Narine videos on YouTube is now keeping Sunil Narine out. How about that?
Varun Chakravarthy may well be the Knight Riders' most important bowler this IPL for two simple reasons: he turns the ball both ways and is hard to read out of the hand.
Kohli couldn't read him. Went for a big shot - aiming for long-on - and was caught at cover instead.
Rajat Patidar couldn't read him. He was too late on a ball that broke his stumps.
Even de Villiers didn't dare attempt anything flash. The Knight Riders wanted to save Chakravarthy for the Royal Challengers talisman. So they took him out of the attack after a double-wicket first over and brought him back on as soon as de Villiers came to the crease.
The battle lasted seven balls. Except it could have easily ended in the fifth, with Chakravarthy getting de Villiers' outside edge, but there was no slip in place.
Can India make the most of his talent in what is a T20 World Cup year?
Are Knight Riders wasting Shakib?
Shakib Al Hasan's subtle variations in pace and length have led to the downfall of many. And each of them will have wondered "what just happened - I thought I had him!" Left-arm orthodox has never been so funky.
But Shakib is a fine batter too. At the 2019 World Cup, having demanded the No. 3 position for Bangladesh, he scored 606 runs at an average of 87 and a strike rate of 96. A top-order slot with time to get into his groove is the best way to maximise on his batting potential but the Knight Riders are a bit too packed up there.
Shubman Gill can't bat anywhere else. Nitish Rana has earned the chance for a longer rope. And Rahul Tripathi is high-impact in the powerplay. Then captain Eoin Morgan wants the No. 4 spot - that's his in the England team as well. So Shakib is, well, a bit stuck.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo