Last Friday AB de Villiers top-scored with 46 off only 24 balls to lead the Titans to victory over the Dolphins in the final of South Africa's domestic Twenty20 tournament. After 24 hours of flying with hops at Addis Ababa, Mumbai and Chandigarh, he's finally made it to the Kotla, home of the Delhi team, scratched from diving around on the field, and unshaven from the tedium of travel.
He arrives at a perfect time for Delhi, who have been bowling-strong all tournament, but now have a batsman who is at the top of his game and in the form of his life.
It was earlier this month that the South African team was celebrating de Villiers's coming of age as he rattled off a double-century in Ahmedabad. The white clothes and red balls might be history in this season of IPL razzmatazz but one shot sticks in the mind. Harbhajan Singh came round the stumps to restrict the free-scoring de Villiers, and the response was a falling slog-sweep, struck so hard that the batsman lay on the pitch and watched with glee as the ball just kept climbing and landed on the roof of the stands. It was the biggest hit anyone had seen at Ahmedabad. He now has smaller grounds and a bigger stage to showcase his hitting, and he certainly won't be pulling any punches.
“The key to doing well, in any form of the game is knowing your own game well. You have to know exactly what your strengths are and where your weaknesses lie,” said de Villiers. “I have my game plan and I stick to my game.”
For some time now, de Villiers has been one of those rare players whose batting style needs only minor adjustments to adapt from one form of the game to another. While he plays the conventional strokes well enough, the cover-drive and the cut are favourites and he's equally adept at scoring in unusual areas.
He whips the ball over midwicket with a pick-up shot that isn't coached anywhere. He manufactures shots against good balls, swatting through the off side with a short back lift or tucking the ball round the corner with a turn of the wrists. An all-round batsman, de Villiers is just as adept at handling the fast men off the back foot as he's happy to use his feet to the spinners.
But then again, you don't succeed at the highest level if you're one-dimensional, and de Villiers is not unique. What does give him an edge is that he thinks on his feet. “One thing players will realise as they play more and more Twenty20 cricket is that there's always more time than you think,” he says. With that knowledge already on board, de Villiers could become the lynchpin of the Delhi team's batting.