Bangalore: AB de Villiers prepares for his 100th test match amid increasing popularity and rising expectations.
De Villiers, among the most popular South Africans on social media with 3 million followers on Twitter, will have even more support than usual when his team plays India in the second test starting Saturday at Bangalore, his home ground when he's playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League.
"AB is going to be more popular than Sachin Tendulkar in world cricket," retired South African pace bowler Fanie de Villiers told The Times of India recently. "That's the caliber of a person we are talking about; that's the cricketer we are talking about; that's the loveable, marketable player we are talking about."
He may not be quite up there yet with the great Indian batsman, but his exploits have been lauded already on this tour as he smashed three centuries to help South Africa win its first ever limited-overs international series in India 3-2.
As for expectations, those hundreds and an 83-ball 63 on a rank turner in the first test at Mohali last week make him the player to watch out for as he has also now regained his status as the top-ranked batsman in tests.
"He's a superman in all formats of the game," teammate Hashim Amla had said of de Villiers at Mohali, where his dismissal for 16 in the second innings ended South Africa's hopes and it crashed to a 108-run defeat in the low-scoring game.
The 31-year-old de Villiers excels as a batsman in limited-overs cricket because of his "360-degree" reach in terms of strokes, but his test record also would be the envy of most batsmen.
"I like the challenge of changing," de Villiers said ahead of the second test. "I've always enjoyed challenging myself, adapting to different conditions - challenges in life and cricket. I believe it brings out the best in people."
De Villiers, who scored the fastest ODI hundred ever — needing just 31 balls to reach triple figures against the West Indies earlier this year at Johannesburg — has scored 7,685 runs from 99 tests with 21 centuries and 37 half-centuries and an average touching 52.
He has several big innings in test cricket, too, with his unbeaten 217 at Ahmedabad in 2008 against a spin attack comprising Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh often forgotten because of pace bowler Dale Steyn's stunning first innings five-for which snuffed out India for just 76 in an innings victory.
De Villiers will have to replay some of that batting as the Ravichandran Ashwin-led spin attack has started a charge on turning pitches in a desperate attempt to avenge the series losses in ODIs and T20s.
It could also mean turning around the series and putting South Africa in line to win in all three formats on tour.
"I think too much is being made of the Mohali pitch. If you look at the scorecard, no one has scored a hundred. Both teams struggled on the pitch. Both teams struggled against spin and looked foolish at times," he said.
De Villiers, who was said to be almost as talented in hockey, football, rugby, athletics, swimming, badminton and golf before he chose cricket, has the widest possible variety of strokes as he reads the line and length of deliveries earlier than any other batsman.
He can not only drive, cut, pull and switch-hit with ease but also create space on either side of the wicket to execute shots almost unimaginable at the time the ball is released from the bowler's hand.
"He is possibly at the peak of his career," Tendulkar said of De Villiers recently. "He's really, really batting unbelievably well and it seems that he has got more time than anyone else.”
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