West Indies must be sick of AB de Villiers and South Africa by now. As if all those records broken in Johannesburg earlier this year were not enough, South Africa returned to embarrass them with another plethora, this time in a World Cup match. The most significant of those were 261 runs in the last 20 overs, a World Cup record and second only to the Johannesburg loot in all ODIs, de Villiers smashing the fastest 150 in ODIs, and the highest team total on Australian soil, an astonishing 408 on what was – believe it or not – a slow somewhat two-paced pitch. West Indies couldn’t even score as much as de Villiers did, registering the joint-worst defeat in World Cups to give Pakistan and Ireland a boost should the final equation come down to net run-rate.
Villiers now has the fastest fifty, hundred and 150 in ODI cricket – all against West Indies – and the fastest double cannot be too far away. Some might say West Indies did themselves a favour by not employing a slip during the stabilising partnership of 127 in 23.4 overs between Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. Had West Indies been more urgent and less content with the calm before the storm, they could have brought in the lower middle order early. Going by the carnage in the end, that might not have been that good a thing for West Indies.
Amla and du Plessis played important innings when the ball wasn’t coming on, and when West Indies were bowling well at the top of the innings. Rossouw went one better and refused to slow down when Chris Gayle removed both Amla and du Plessis in the same over. He scored 61 off 39. Yet all three shall be consigned to being footnotes on a day that de Villiers showed there is no better front-runner in contemporary cricket.
This whole innings had followed the disturbingly frequent norm between bigger teams where the pitch has little in it for the bowlers, nothing happens in the first 30 overs of the first innings, and then the batsmen erupt thanks to the new fielding regulations. The only way to counter it is to keep taking wickets or be exceptionally good with defensive bowling in the end. West Indies didn’t quite go out of their way to take wickets in the initial middle overs, and their bowlers wilted in the end. However, de Villiers’ hitting – a triumph of imagination and orthodoxy in the same brief while – managed to bring joy to what is becoming mundane.
The plunder began when Rossouw and de Villiers – batting first as opposed to chasing, which is when their team tends to struggle – showed no signs of the circumspection that was a feature of their defeat to India. The two added 134 in 12.3 overs. West Indies managed to get only 12 dots in during the partnership, including none in the Powerplay that cost them 72 runs. Rossouw and de Villiers matched each other stroke for stroke, and at one moment for statistics too: when the two were 55 off 34 with five fours each and a six each. That’s not a double whammy you want to be a part of.
West Indies managed to break the prospect of twin centuries by sending Rossouw back with the score at 280 in the 43rd over, but the real true unadulterated mayhem was yet to be unleashed. West indies had even drawn themselves some relative quiet by keeping South Africa down to 330 by the end of the 47th over. De Villiers was 95 off 50, and hadn’t yet hit top gear.
Now Jason Holder brought himself on. He had bowled two maidens. Taken the wicket of de Kock. Conceded only 40 in eight. At one point only nine in five overs. Now imagine the pressure on the 23-year-old captain of what was once an intimidating side. In a complete meltdown he bowled length deliveries, two no-balls and went for 34 runs in the 48th over. The intimidation was well justified. De Villiers, though, was just having fun: going down the ground, going over fine leg, reversing over third man deliveries that were pitched in almost identical spots.
Andre Russell got lucky in the next over as he bowled the first three deliveries to Farhaan Behardien, for only nine runs. Holder – poor Holder – again started the last over to de Villiers. He kept feeding that driving slot, and de Villiers kept hurting him for 30 more in that over. He had brought up his 100 off the 52nd ball he faced, two behind the World Cup record held by Kevin O’Brien, but reached his 150 off the 64th ball he faced. And then celebrated with back-to-back sixes to end the innings. Holder had now conceded 104, fifth-worst overall, and the worst 10-over analysis in World Cups.
You can hardly fault a side for being demoralised after such repeated beatings. Once Kyle Abbott removed Gayle early, with an outswinger that hit the top of the leg stump, the fight was going to be in short supply, which was reduced further by the excellent fielding and the legspin of Imran Tahir. There was small consolation for Holder in that his 56 off 48 helped West Indies avoid the worst defeat in ODIs.