The Proteas captain timed his innings to perfection with a heady mixture of effortless stroke-play and strike rotation to take the Proteas to a five-wicket victory to clinch the series 3-2 after being 2-0 down.
Man-of-the-Match De Villiers reached his 24th ODI hundred off just 96 balls, and finished on 101 not out off 97 balls (11x4, 1x6) to hand the Proteas a measure of revenge after losing the Test series 2-1 to the English earlier in the summer.
The skipper received outstanding support from Hashim Amla (59 off 93 balls, 4x4) and later all-rounder David Wiese, who played some tremendous shots in his 32-ball 41 not out (5x4, 2x6) to carry the South Africans to victory.
De Villiers came to the crease with the Proteas in crisis at 22/3 after the top-order of Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw lost their wickets for the addition of just eight runs. De Kock (4) was somewhat unfortunate as a sharp in-swinger from left-armer Reece Topley brushed his glove, and he was given out after England reviewed the umpire’s not-out decision.
But Du Plessis gave his wicket away for a first-ball duck as he attempted a booming drive off Topley, who got just enough movement into the right-hander to find the inside edge, which saw the ball crash into the stumps.
The Proteas surprisingly opted to send in left-hander Rossouw – who replaced JP Duminy in the starting XI – at No 4, but after playing a beautiful straight drive off Topley, he lofted the ball straight to Alex Hales at short cover to be out for four.
It looked like the Proteas batting line-up were caving under the pressure despite a modest target of 237 to win after they bowled out England for 236 in just 45 overs.
Senior statesmen Amla and De Villiers knew that they couldn’t afford to get out, and they set about resurrecting the innings by defending resolutely but also putting the bad ball away.
They combined for a vital fourth-wicket stand of 125, with Amla going to his 29th ODI half-century. But just when it appeared as if the South Africans were cruising to victory, Amla (59) sauntered down the pitch to off-spinner Moeen Ali for a big cover drive, only to miss the ball completely and Jos Buttler had the bails off in a flash.
De Villiers would’ve wanted Farhaan Behardien to play a similar innings to the one he did at the Wanderers on Friday night by just knocking the ball around for singles, but following a late drinks break, Behardien went on the attack, hitting Moeen over long-on for six.
But when he tried the same shot off leg-spinner Adil Rashid, he holed out to Ben Stokes at mid-on, and the Proteas were again in a tricky position at 166/5 in the 35th over.
Wiese, though, wasn’t troubled by the spinners and hit Rashid for consecutive sixes to relieve some of the pressure. That broke the back of a late English comeback, with De Villiers going to his hundred with two fours in a row off Topley and a dab to third man.
The 19 715-strong Newlands crowd rose as one to applaud their hero, and De Villiers responded with a fist-pump. He was staring a series defeat in the face, which would’ve resulted in the Proteas’ first Test-ODI double series defeat on home soil since Australia did it in 2002.
Instead, De Villiers walked off the Newlands arena with that infectious smile on his face as a winner.
Earlier, opener Alex Hales’ career-best 112 (128 balls, 14x4) wasn’t enough to take England to a competitive total as the rest of the batting line-up crumbled around him.
No one else scored more than Ben Stokes’ 29 as the visitors were bowled out for 236 in 45 overs.
Kagiso Rabada was again terrific in claiming 3/34 in nine overs, while Wiese and Imran Tahir also took three wickets.
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AB is known as an entertainer extraordinaire, but with the ODI series on the line he knuckled down when it mattered most.
Original source: Captain AB takes Proteas home