AB De Villiers is revered in India because of his ability to make the cricket ball and the bowlers swing to his tunes. However, on Monday at the Feroz Shah Kotla, De Villiers showed just why he is one of the sport's all-time greats, shunning that trademark attacking style of his completely to block, block and block some more.
When Hashim Amla does it -- and does it well he does -- it isn't that great a surprise or even awe-inspiring, because the South Africa Test captain's game is built on his defence. But when De Villiers does it, that sense of awe does comes in, a different aura-filled awe from the usual one he invokes with his incredible and incomparable stroke play.
De Villiers has done this before, of course, with the most famous of it being in the Adelaide Test match in 2012 against Australia, when he resisted the bowling attack for 220 deliveries to help South Africa to a famous draw. Faf Du Plessis was the main man in that match, striking a brilliant blockathon hundred on his debut, but De Villiers, in that match, showed he is not that see-ball, hit-ball one-trick pony.
The De Villiers legend has grown over the past couple of years to stratospheric levels – mainly owing to that see-ball hit-ball style -- which is why every time he steps onto the field, in any country in the world, there is a sense of excitement. Every cricket fan, regardless of his/her allegiances, wants to watch De Villiers play, hit those massive sixes and bring out those innovative shots, like only he can.
But for the purists, the De Villiers at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Monday would have invoked more joy; a sense of "now we know why he is the undisputed best batsman in the world in all formats". Nobody even comes close in this era; De Villiers has it all – timing, touch, adaptability and a defence that is as impenetrable as the best in the business.
On Monday, with South Africa needing to bat for six hours to save the Test match, De Villiers showed that near-impenetrable defence for 296 deliveries, scoring just 43 runs (heck, it would have been less surprising to watch ABD score a big hundred in 43 balls than the other way around).
It looked like the great man would guide South Africa to a draw, even when one big batsman after another fell at the other end after their own fairly impressive block-only-innings – indeed, De Villiers was on his way to scoring the slowest half-century in Test match cricket. However, the 297th ball proved to be the final ball of a knock that will stay in the memory for a long while – R Ashwin, whose contest with the right-hander was one of the highlights of the Test series, getting a ball to rise up and take the glove through to leg-slip -- with the only pity being that such a great innings wasn't enough to help South Africa stave off a loss.