There was a time you’d have been laughed out of the room for even suggesting such a thing. No one could be as entertaining or intimidating to bowl to as the great Sir Viv, the cap-wearing, gum-chewing, swaggering West Indies master blaster.
However, De Villiers has changed batting, and the debate equating his devastating talent with that of Richards took hold following that amazing 31-ball century against the West Indies at the Wanderers in January.
Forget the old fogeys who harped on about altitude, small boundaries and big bats. You don’t hit hundreds off just 31 balls – not at school level, nor for the Saturday third team, and certainly not in an international match.
“He’s a freak, you can’t make a hundred from 31 balls, it’s not right,” Rilee Rossouw chirped a few hours after De Villiers’s Bullring bash.
That he is now the game’s best batsman is no longer in dispute. His contemporaries barely bat an eyelid before singing his praises. But those comparisons with Sir Viv, can they be taken seriously?
It’s probably best to listen to the man himself, who earlier this year said: “Sometimes when I watch him, it seems like I am watching myself.” That’s quite some praise.
De Villiers in the past year has elevated his game. He can now switch between being the batsman who occupies the crease in a Test should his side require so, to playing second fiddle to his batting partner, to completely dominating opposing bowlers.
In the Test arena he has scored two centuries in South Africa’s past six Tests, both coming at crucial stages in the series against the West Indies last summer.
In the first Test, he helped guide young Stiaan van Zyl through his debut – Van Zyl went on to make a hundred – and in the third Test at Newlands, his 148 helped fashion a crucial first-innings lead.
However, the biggest impact came in the one-day format, which has made up a substantial part of South Africa’s activities on the field in the past year.
De Villiers scored 1 610 runs at an average of 80.50, with four hundreds, including that ludicrous world record at the Wanderers.
Oh, there were also seven wickets thrown in for good measure, because, well, why not just bowl too, when you’re as talented as De Villiers?
He went to the World Cup as South Africa’s captain and, although he claimed there that he couldn’t win the tournament on his own, he tried his damnedest to do so. His unbeaten 162 – also against the West Indies – at the Sydney Cricket Ground will be recalled as one of the tournament’s greatest knocks.
He ended as the tournament’s third-highest run-scorer, but it all meant very little as the tears flowed in Auckland following another dramatic exit by South Africa.
Nevertheless, when Cricket South Africa hold their annual awards function this week, there can be little doubt De Villiers will repeat his triumph of last year in claiming the Cricketer of the Year prize.
De Villiers should also be a shoo-in as the best one-day player of the year, though his absence as a nominee from the Test category means a hat-trick isn’t achievable.
That award will be a close battle between Hashim Amla, the Test captain, and Dale Steyn, the world’s best bowler. Steyn produced three memorable performances over the six Tests SA played in that period: In Galle he picked up nine wickets in the match when South Africa clinched the first Test against Sri Lanka, then he stormed through the West Indies on the third morning of the Centurion Test, taking 6/34 in 8.2 overs, and in Cape Town his seven wickets in the match helped secure the series win.
While tougher examinations await him next summer, Amla looked relatively at ease as Test captain last season, making a difficult ton in Colombo to save the second Test and secure the series against Sri Lanka, while his double ton at Centurion was instrumental in setting up the first Test win over West Indies.
Dean Elgar, the third nominee in the Test category, made two centuries last season to cement his spot as the Test side’s opener. He faces another challenging season as he seeks to forge a new opening partnership, most likely with Van Zyl, over the next few months.
Among the categories recognising achievements on the domestic front, the Highveld Lions dominate, featuring prominently in four categories, including three nominees in the best player in the Sunfoil Series– a reflection of their dominance in that competition.
Danè van Niekerk’s rapid growth last season for the national women’s team makes her favourite to claim the Women’s Cricketer of the Year prize, although skipper Mignon du Preez’s century in South Africa’s sole Test last year against India will make a strong argument for her to emerge victorious in that category.Watching AB in the crease is like watching myself, former great Viv Richards says.
Original source: Viv’s telling accolade to AB