Abraham de Villiers brought his big hitting ways back in spectacular fashion to the World Cup batting crease. The one difference is he came without his beard this time. This must rate as the craziest sporting advice ever, but it was tendered by the former New Zealand batting great and cricket thinker Martin Crowe and apparently accepted by the South African captain.
Writing an open letter in his website column to the world’s current top ranked ODI batsman, who had not been in the best of form in his last four innings after his world record fastest ODI hundred against the West Indies at home, Crowe said, “Have a shave, AB, You look ragged and rattled. Smarten up. A touch of polish is required. Since that 31-ball ton, you have got a bit sloppy.”
Indeed AB had, as evidenced in the scruffy beard he had been sporting as recently as in the match against India in which one of the favourites for the World Cup was annihilated by the defending champion at the MCG last week. When AB emerged on Friday after Amla and du Plessis had carefully built the foundation from which the skipper could launch, he came clean shaven, the polished look back on his face.
AB did not reveal if the Crowe advice helped in compiling one of limited-overs’ great modern innings of such stunning and outright aggression that only lack of imagination could end it. In AB, cricket has one of the most innovative batsmen even in this era of big hitting and it would never be lack of imagination that could spoil his batting day. The result – 162* off 66 balls, 17x4, 8x6 – which made for the breaking of a welter of records again by a batsman who now holds the record of the fastest 50, 100 and 150 in ODI history.
AB said very modestly to the interviewer moments after the hurricane innings, “Very enjoyable knock today. Foundation allowed me to free up. One of those knocks that came my way and little bit of luck here and there.” The luck might have to do with the ball deciding to go for four or six after fielders tried to get their hands in the way to the most imaginatively executed explosive hits seen in the game. It is a pity they forgot to ask him about his clean shaven look.
Could the grooming tip have really helped? Well, on the day’s evidence, the South Africans, de Villiers and Rilee Roussow in particular, did smarten up. Even Dale Steyn had something of a smile on his face. Advised by critics not to play as if the weight of the world was eternally on their shoulders, the team, known as the great chokers of world cricket, lightened up.
As AB was walking off, the other great hitter, who left his imprint on this World Cup already with the first double hundred in is 40-year history, Chris Gayle, sprinted up to shake AB’s hand. Even in his hurry to get in, freshen up and come back to open the West Indian innings, Gayle did not forget to congratulate the man who is redrawing the boundaries of explosive striking of the cricket ball. Gayle could not replicate the destructive abilities on the day, losing his leg stump early s an outswinger ducked under the intended big hit....