Abraham Benjamin de Villiers’ potential was recognised years before he made the leap to senior international level as an opening batsman against England at Port Elizabeth in 2004-05. He has batted everywhere from number one to number eight – with the important exception of number three – and has performed well in most of these positions.
He has recently moved up to No. 5 in the batting order, and hasn’t done badly at all in that position, averaging 84 in 16 Tests, and scoring five hundreds and five fifties in 22 innings. He’s not yet 27, which means his best years as a batsman should be ahead of him, as should the No. 4 spot when Jacques Kallis finally decides he has had enough of international cricket. Those will admittedly be huge boots to fill, but de Villiers is probably better equipped than most to fit into them.
Ever since AB de Villiers made his international debut, he was earmarked as a special talent. As often happens with the prodigiously talented, performance didn’t match expectations for a while, but over the last three years de Villiers has been proving that the hype was justified. Both in Tests and ODIs, de Villiers has been in tremendous form during this period, which was underlined most recently by his undefeated 278 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. De Villiers finished with a series average of 154, which is his second successive 100-plus average in a series, and the seventh time in his last 11 Test series that the average has topped 60.
These numbers have meant that de Villiers has firmly slotted among the top batsmen in the world today, but in his early years he struggled for consistency. In the first three years of his Test career he averaged a modest 36.36, and even those numbers were propped up by runs against relatively weaker attacks: he averaged less than 25 against Australia and Pakistan but more than 60 against West Indies and Zimbabwe. The other problem in the early days was his rate of converting half-centuries into hundreds: out of 16 scores of 50-plus he only had three centuries, and two of those weren’t big hundreds.
Much has changed since then. In the last three years de Villiers has gone about rectifying almost all those stats: his average during this period has shot up to nearly 65, against Australia he averages 75 from six Tests, and he has eight hundreds from 18 scores of 50-plus. The only opposition he has really struggled against during this period is, quite interestingly, Bangladesh – in four Tests against them he averages 17.25; against every other opponent it exceeds 50. The hundreds have become bigger too, with two doubles and two others in excess of 150.
All these runs put de Villiers among the top batsmen in the world over the last three years. In terms of averages only Sri Lanka’s Thilan Samaraweera has better numbers, but he has scored almost all his runs in the subcontinent, in conditions he is familiar with. De Villiers, on the other hand, has scored his runs all over the world, with hundreds in Australia, England, West Indies, India and, of course, South Africa.
Unlike almost all batsmen, de Villiers has much better numbers overseas than in South Africa. Overall, the difference is surprisingly large – he averages 36.09 at home and 61.93 overseas (including neutral venues). The home average has gone up recently – it’s 50.93 in 11 Tests in the last three years – but de Villiers remains a superior batsman away from home, where he has scored both his double-hundreds. In fact, the tendency to perform better away from home is a trait that’s common to him and Hashim Amla, the other South African batsman who has been in sublime form recently: Amla averages 41.74 at home, but his overall average is almost 47.
The first three and a half weeks in November haven’t been a good period for Test cricket: five dull draws have been played out during this time, with the only exception being New Zealand’s capitulation by an innings and 198 runs in Nagpur. The draw sequence started in India – where New Zealand forced two stalemates, and even had the chance to win one match – and then spread to Dubai, Galle and Abu Dhabi, as Pakistan held South Africa and West Indies surprised everyone against Sri Lanka. MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh hit out at the pitches in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, and out in the UAE, Jacques Kallis had similar views about the tracks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Source: The Daily Mail Pakistan – November 30, 2010 / AHMAD MEHMOODUZ ZAMAN