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How Australia’s negative strategy failed to stop AB De Villiers in Port Elizabeth

Mitchell Starc has revealed that Australia captain Steve Smith asked the bowlers to put balls on leg side beyond AB de Villiers’ reach during the second Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.

cricket Updated: Mar 16, 2018 16:52 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
AB De Villiers,Mitchell Starc,Port Elizabeth
Ab De Villiers scored a brilliant ton to guide South Africa to victory over Australia in the second Test match in Port Elizabeth.(REUTERS)

While the best of captains are left scratching their heads on how to stop the 360-degree AB de Villiers from getting runs irrespective of the format, the best that Australia’s Steve Smith could come up with in the second Test last week was to pepper the South African maestro with leg-side deliveries.

According to ESPNCricinfo, Mitchell Starc has now revealed he was not too happy following his captain’s orders, while de Villiers proved to be the difference between the two teams at Port Elizabeth with his fabulous 22nd Test hundred — first for him in three years.

“I can’t say I was too happy with that either. Look, if the captain tells me to do anything, I’m going to do it, aren’t I?,” Starc said.

De Villiers’ century not only took the game away from Australia, but provided South Africa an opportunity to level the intense series 1-1 with two more Tests to play.

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How much value de Villiers’ wicket carry can be gauged by the fact that Smith, during the post-match presentation, mentioned the fact that Australia were at least able to dismiss him once.

Smith said, “We came out really well, got AB out conventionally out for the first time this series, gives us confidence.”

While Starc and his new-ball partner Josh Hazlewood did put the negative-line strategy into action, the former said margin of error is too less when de Villiers is at the crease.

“He seems to be able to play a couple of different shots to the same length ball, so your margin for error is a lot less to someone like him. But he’s only human, so he’s going to make mistakes and you’re going to be able to get him out and people have before in the past and I’m pretty confident in our bowling attack. So there’s no doubt we can get him out four more times in the series,” Starc said.

“I think you’ve got to think outside the box a lot more with him. A good ball’s still a good ball to any batter in world cricket, it’s just bowling them more consistently, changing the field a little bit and maybe cutting off a couple of scoring areas for him as well. I think that’s one thing we didn’t do well enough to him in the first innings [in Port Elizabeth], we didn’t bowl enough good balls to him,” he added.

‘De Villiers is only human’

How much Test cricket missed de Villiers during his self-imposed exile was proven with that second-innings ton at St George’s Park, and Starc said Australia have had lengthy discussions about getting rid of the South African batsman sooner.

“We’ve had some lengthy discussions about some plans to him, things we might have to change, but he’s only human and going forward there’s no doubt we can get him out,” Starc expressed.

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“He’s allowed to play good cricket shots, but I think we didn’t bowl that really good ball consistently enough to him to build a bit of extra pressure on him and make him play the false shot. It’s something we’ve spoken about as a bowling group and as a team moving forward in this series and hopefully that starts in Cape Town and we can get him out fairly cheaply,” he added.

Starc said while Australia are ‘comfortable’ against the other South African batsmen, it is de Villiers who has been the toughest opponent.

“We feel we’re pretty comfortable against the rest of their batting line-up,” Starc said. “I think we showed in the first Test how quickly we can go through them. He was a mainstay in the first innings of that first Test as well and again in the second Test, so they rely heavily on him and there’s been a few little cameos around him,” he said,

“He’s a fantastic batter, there’s no doubt about that and he showed again in the first innings why he’s one of the best in the world. We’ve had some lengthy discussions about some plans to him, things we might have to change, but he’s only human and going forward there’s no doubt we can get him out,” Starc added.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 16:52 IST