It was sort of a deja vu. On May 23 2018, AB de Villiers announced an unexpected retirement from international cricket stating that he has “ran out of gas”. On November 19 2021, he hung up his boots from all forms of cricket saying “that flame no longer burns so brightly”. In the course of the three years in between, the flame enthralled us with astonishing strokeplay and knocks that left us awestruck.
If you have to pick his top five IPL innings, there are enough evidences in these three years. But we make our job tougher and jot down his all-time top five IPL knocks, completely subjective to our choices. There are many honourable omissions, including two centuries, but it all comes down to his expertise that has produced masterclasses in abundance.
73* (33), vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Sharjah, 2020
With his genius, de Villiers, many a times, portrayed as if he is batting on a different wicket. There is no better innings to underline that attribute of his batsmanship. It was one of those sluggish Sharjah wickets where timing the ball was the utmost challenge. Virat Kohli had been in the middle for five overs at the point of de Villiers’ arrival but could only manage 11 off 14 balls which tells the tale. Given RCB’s score at that point, they would have done well to reach 160. However, de Villiers had other plans.
Within the first 13 balls, he had smashed a four and a couple of consecutive sixes. He teed off quite early by the standards of the pitch and then kept flying. Be it the cutters of the Kamlesh Nagarkoti or Pat Cummins hitting the deck, de Villiers took everything to the cleaners. RCB reached the above par score of 194. In a 100-run stand, he contributed 73 runs. No other batsman to have scored over 20 in that match managed a strike-rate of 140. De Villiers touched 221.
“Barring one superhuman, every batsman struggled on the pitch,” said skipper Kohli after the game.
133* (59), vs Mumbai Indians, Mumbai, 2015
The best thing about an AB de Villiers’ onslaught is that you know you can’t do anything as the opposition, a feeling of consolation that you cannot control the uncontrollable. Mumbai Indians had a similar helpless feeling when de Villiers pummeled them for his highest T20 score.
It was a season where he batted in the top-order, 10 out of 14 innings at number three. In this game, at Wankhede, he walked out to bat in the fourth over, with the scoreboard reading 20/1. In the subsequent 82 minutes, that figure changed to 235/1. In a 215-run stand with Virat Kohli, de Villiers’ share was around 62%. His unbeaten 133 came at a strike-rate of 225, including 19 fours and four sixes. The number of fours is joint most in an IPL knock. As disclosed by Jonty Rhodes in de Villiers’ autobiography, the Mumbai coach at that time, Ricky Ponting told him that each of de Villiers’ shot was hit in the gap.
89* (41), vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, Bengaluru, 2014
An innings in which the maverick South African dismantled the best. He came in at a tricky position in the run chase, with the asking rate touching 9 and three wickets down for less than 40 on the board. He had not had many runs up until that point in the tournament. That night, de Villiers cleared his intentions when he landed his first six in the trash can placed ahead of the opposition’s dugout.
Fast forward to the 19th over. The South African had carried the run chase on his own, bringing the equation down to 28 off the last two overs. He was himself 62 off 34 balls. De Villiers had won the first round against Dale Steyn, back in 2012. He took him for 23 runs back then, this time it was 24. He disorganized Steyn with two sixes to start the over. If that wasn’t enough, he scooped the speedster over fine-leg to the second tier of the stadium in a shot that will be remembered for eternity. Steyn accepted his fortunes as even he couldn’t help but clap for the beast in front of him.
Talking about tricky run chases, RCB were 29/5 in the first Qualifier in 2016, chasing 159. As the situation demanded, AB had to be cautious, yet he was 37 off 24 balls and later reached his fifty in 33 balls. With a bit of rain coming in, he took on the attack and everything just came off. A leg-stump yorker from Praveen Kumar was paddled past point for four which was arguably the most skillful shot of the innings. AB had some help from the other end as Iqbal Abdullah not only stayed with him but scored a handy 33 not out. But it was purely down to AB’s genius that RCB turned the game on its head, winning with 10 balls to spare. They had another chance to qualify for the final but de Villiers ensured the first bite at the cherry is enough.
89* (46), vs Kings XI Punjab, Indore, 2017
In another solo effort, de Villiers exhibited his brilliance in a losing cause. At number three, he was out to bat after the first over itself. RCB were without Virat Kohli and with Shane Watson out early, the onus fell on de Villiers’ shoulders. By the end of the powerplay, they were reeling at 23/3. There were no boundaries for six overs in the middle. But as soon as the death overs began, the AB show began in its full pomp. The last five overs rendered 77 runs for RCB out of which 58 came out of de Villiers’ willow, in a matter of 18 balls. The South African himself struck eight maximums, three of which landed on the roof.
The last two sixes took the cake. On the penultimate ball, de Villiers made room a tad too early for Mohit Sharma to bowl wide. He adjusted instantly and was able to loft the ball over covers for a six while falling over his back knee. The last ball, a sailing six over the cow corner was the biggest of all. In a total of 148, AB contributed 60% in what was one of the most high-class IPL knocks in a losing cause.