Matches (28)
BAN v NZ (1)
IND v AUS (1)
SA v WI (A tour) (1)
Sheffield Shield (3)
Legends League (1)
Hazare Trophy (18)
Abu Dhabi T10 (3)

Robin Uthappa: AB de Villiers shattered the ceiling of batting technique

The innovation we see in T20 batting today started with him

No part of the ground was safe when AB de Villiers was on song  •  AFP/Getty Images

No part of the ground was safe when AB de Villiers was on song  •  AFP/Getty Images

If you ask me to capture the beauty of AB de Villiers' batting, this image stands out: he is standing outside leg stump, and as the bowler jumps into his delivery stride, AB gets into this semi-lunge position, going down on one knee, with his head and eyes still, watching the ball before he executes the stroke.
The toughest part of that shot is to get into position and still watch the ball. A lot of times, other batters, like me, get into position and we are just playing the shot, but with AB, his head is still, his eyes are still, and he is tracking the ball.
AB could control his head, one of the heaviest parts of the body, and keep it still while moving the rest of the body into position; that was one of his biggest strengths as a batter.
Around the 2016 IPL, I sat down with him in Bangalore for a free-flowing chat on batting. I had been through my own transformation as a batter, including with my stance, set-up and technique. I asked him: what's the most important thing while facing the bowler?
One thing that he said stood out: "The minute he is in the last four or five strides of his run-up, what I'm essentially thinking about is watching that ball and keeping my head as still as possible." He said that in passing, but for me, it resonated the most.
AB made me understand that the most important thing with batting is to have your head and your eyes still at the point of delivery, no matter what your initial movement, set-up or technique is. By doing that, you are giving yourself the best chance to be successful at playing the ball well.
It was in 2011, when he moved to Royal Challengers Bangalore from Delhi Daredevils, that AB's transformation sort of started. That is when he began experimenting with angles on the ground. It was AB who made us all believe: man, this is possible. He just opened up the V to a complete 360, where you could use the whole ground.
Since then, we have seen how batters have been able to work the ability to use the ground into their game to create their own variations. Like KL Rahul utilising the gap between fine leg and deep square leg and playing a pick-up towards long leg. He has refined it to the extent where we now recognise it as a trademark KL shot.
I was surprised to see Virat Kohli, who is otherwise orthodox, play the ramp in Australia last year, but it's testimony to how much batters today are thinking of what's possible. We wouldn't have seen the kind of angles Rishabh Pant has been able to create and utilise in international cricket if not for the likes of AB.
Some of AB's strokes were definitely premeditated, but at the same time, they were also driven by his gut. If he instinctively felt that a shot was available, he could quickly get into position and execute.
He was obviously courageous and did get hit on a few occasions, but he was also extremely athletic: he knew how to fall down, how to roll. The reason he did so well, I think, is because he played different sports growing up: field hockey, rugby, tennis. That was a massive advantage as he was naturally athletic. My wife, Sheetal [Goutham], a former professional tennis player, once told me that AB gets into tennis-like positions, as if he's about to play a forehand or receive a serve.
One of my three favourite AB innings is him denying Pune Warriors victory in 2012 when RCB needed 21 off the final over at the Chinnaswamy. Saurabh Tiwary hit the winning six, but it was AB who turned the match in a matter of three deliveries in an over - with two sixes and a four.
Another favourite was his hundred against Gujarat Lions in a 200-plus partnership with Virat in 2016.
But my best AB innings has to be his world-record hundred, against West Indies in Johannesburg in 2015. He came in in the 39th over. By then Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw had scored a hundred each, but they had taken nearly 40 overs to do it, and here comes AB, picking up a century in 31 balls. I have studied the footage of that hundred for hours together and it is a masterclass. One of the shots he played then sticks in my mind - it was a reverse sweep that ran behind point. It was like a reverse drag-flick from hockey. It's not like others cannot do it; they can, but not with the consistency that AB could.
During that innings he played my favourite AB shot several times: going down on one knee and utilising the whole area from the keeper to deep midwicket. That arc was once a safe haven for bowlers, who knew they could bowl hard yorkers into leg stump, especially at the death, and that not many batters would be able to hit them there. But after AB came into his own since 2011, that cushion was taken away gradually.
That's why I feel AB has played a pivotal role in the evolution of T20. He was among those who forced bowlers to find different ways to challenger batters. Now you see the knuckleball, the back-of-the-hand slower ball, a dipping slower ball, the wide yorker on off stump. Those have come about as a reaction to the kinds of innovations people like AB have produced.
I see the passion AB has for the team when he's batting. In his mind, at no point is he losing a game. No matter how impossible a situation might feel, he believes he's still going to do it. That's what made him so dangerous.
And by doing all this, AB shattered the ceiling of batting technique. He proved that you don't need to be bound by technique to be successful in cricket. The only element of his batting that was conventional was his stance, which was side-on. But the minute he got into position, he had all angles open to him.
AB is the foundation on which T20 cricket has evolved. We can only thank him for that.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo