In the end, it took David Boon, the ICC match referee, suspending du Plessis for a slow over-rate, to get South Africa’s best batsman in the most pivotal position in the line-up. The result, of course, was there for all to see as England wilted in the face of an innings of withering beauty from AB de Villiers.
While Hashim Amla continued his strong base-building batting at the top of the order, and Quinton de Kock shrugged off some early dismissals to protect the partnership, it was de Villiers’ innings that put South Africa in a dominant position and mood.
Amla and de Kock added 90 for the first wicket, staying out in the middle till the fifth ball of the 11th over. When asked about finally pleasing the public by batting at No. 3, de Villiers stifled a chuckle while explaining himself. “I’m not sure if it’s about the position in which you’re batting. I came in after the 10th over, which is what the coaching staff has been pushing for me to do,” said de Villiers. “They think I will enjoy my batting in those kinds of situations. That’s probably why they’re leaving me at No. 4. But, yeah, I enjoyed it.”
While there’s nothing wrong with the thinking behind the logic of leaving de Villiers at No. 4, other teams might approach the same issue differently, giving their best player the opportunity to bat as long as possible. And, there’s no arguing with results, especially if they’re of the kind South Africa produced against England.
What South Africa will do when du Plessis returns for the semifinal is as yet unclear. When du Plessis missed South Africa’s first game of the tournament through a hamstring injury, it was JP Duminy who was elevated to the No. 3 slot, not de Villiers. During the England game, however, de Villiers was more anxious to get his captain back, than the batting order that might result. “We’re really looking forward to get Faf back. He was a big loss and a worry. That was more reason for me as captain to be motivated to make sure we make it to the semis. To give Faf the opportunity to come back as captain and take the team further,” said de Villiers. “Everyone’s settled in the team, but we haven’t played really well as a team till the England game. To click like that, and play a decent game of cricket, getting into the knockouts, was important. I’ve been sitting on the side in the last three games not really performing well. I have been lying in bed at night thinking about my batting, and what’s going on. I was very motivated to have an impact. ”
If you had to pick a single over that was the difference between the two sides, it was the 18th, bowled by Jade Dernbach, in which de Villiers was both orthodox and cheeky, deployed brute force and timing. “It was an important over. There was the short boundary. Up until then we hadn’t had too many big overs and I felt it was time, felt settled at the wicket,” said de Villiers, who was typically modest. “The bounce of the ball was on my side in that over, I read Dernbach pretty well. And fortunately my execution was spot on. He’s a good bowler, but with the wet ball, and short boundary, it was my night.”
De Villiers was all praise for Wayne Parnell, who returned from a trip to Mumbai to attend court proceedings, and was on a hat-trick at one stage in the game. “He’s an absolute match-winner. I’d love to have him in my team every day,” said de Villiers. “I’m very proud of him and his performances. We’ve always known what he’s capable of, but I think we’ve seen very little of what’s to come.”
De Villiers was happy with the manner in which the South African campaign was shaping up, and hoped that his team could avoid the errors it had made in tournaments of this kind in the past. “It’s always important in tournaments like this to get form on your side at the right time,” said de Villiers. “We’ve probably been guilty, in the past, of not quite getting that right, and peaking a bit early. We’re looking good. It’s up to us to play another good game, come the semifinal.”
When they take the field in Dhaka, after a well-earned five-day break, South Africa will be aware that it is two good games away from the title. It will want to take it one game at a time, but that is always easier said than done.