AB joins the greats (with a little help from his friends)
Abu Dhabi, second Test, day 2: Pakistan 59/1 trail South Africa 584/9 dec. (de Villiers 278*; Tanvir Ahmed 6-120) by 525 runs
AB de VILLIERS broke the South Africa Test batting record today, thanks to the munificence of his captain, whose record he passed, and the tenacity of the tail, with whom he added 243 runs and more than doubled his score from 130 to a record unbeaten 278.
The knock takes de Villiers past some of the best players ever to have represented South Africa. As well as Smith, his score eclipsed Daryll Cullinan, Gary Kirsten and the legendary Graeme Pollock. When Johan Botha was seventh man down, de Villiers could hardly have imagined Dale Steyn, Paul Harris and Morne Morkel reprising their MCG heroics of two years ago to add another 200 - half of which came in a record South African tenth-wicket stand with Morkel.
“It’s a very special day and a very special innings,” said de Villiers, who went past Graeme Smith’s 277 with a single off Umar Gul. He dedicated the feat to his skipper, saying he showed “a lot of class” in allowing him to “push on and to get that record”, while of the heroic tailenders he added:
“All the tailenders that stuck it out with me there today were quite amazing and they were all willing to give me the strike to get to the record... They were all willing to come out there and to put their bodies on the line.
“That even inspired me, to watch Morne and Dale and Harry and all of them getting into line and really taking the knocks for the team.”
Smith, meanwhile, tweeted that, for some unknown reason, he was getting stick for declaring when he did:
“Taking heat tonight on twitter for not letting AB go for 300.#youdefinitelycan'tplseveryone. Always base decision on what's best for team.”
Quite why said muppets were giving him “heat” one doesn’t know nor can comprehend; Michael Atherton Sydney 1994 this was not.
Back to Abu Dhabi 2010, and exactly a week on from the Formula 1 denouement, it was South Africa who again provided the sparks, carrying on as they’d ended day one, flaying the Pakistan attack to all corners, with only Tanvir Ahmed, who finished with a six-for, and Abdur Rehman, who captured two wickets and went for only three an over, causing them any discomfort.
After the declaration, South Africa struck with only the third ball of the innings, Mohammad Hafeez trapped in front to Steyn. Taufeeq Umar and Azhar Ali survived till stumps, Pakistan closing 525 runs behind, still 326 runs from making the Proteas bat again.
What more, then, can be said of de Villiers, the Stan Laurel looky-likey with his goofy smile, mop of ginger hair and puzzled expression. Well, where better to look than to rewind two-and-a-half years to a post I wrote on these very pages in appreciation of the touring AB:
“...AB is no clown. He can bat anywhere in the order, from one through to seven, aggressive opener, middle-order couter-attacker or lower-middle-order battler; he's a great slip fielder and can even keep wicket... and he also likes to bowl medium pacers.
“Like all South Africans, cricket's not all he's good at, his sporting prowess stretching to hockey, where he excelled in his youth, golf, which he plays off scratch, swimming and rugby.”
The ultimate sporting all-rounder, to whose bow we can now add highest Test score by a South African and South Africa one day international wicketkeeper. And he’s only 26!
• Cricinfo: Live text commentary of day 3 from 0600hrs GMT