With Dale Steyn leading a strong pace unit complemented by No. 1 ranked ODI bowler Imran Tahir, South Africa have routinely been referred to as the team with the best bowling attack in the world. Now, according to AB de Villiers, they can add best batting line-up and best team spirit to their repertoire as well.
“With the bat in hand, with the last 20 or 30 overs, we are definitely the best batting line-up in the world. There’s no doubt about that. We have proven that over quite a few years now,” de Villiers said, after his team posted their fourth total over 400 this year, sixth overall and joint-third highest of all time to win their first-ever bilateral ODI series in India and second trophy of the tour. But he did not attribute the mountain of runs as the only reason for their success away from home.
“That comes purely down to team spirit. We have got an incredible culture in the team and respect for each other – it’s driven by some of the senior players, a culture that was started a few years ago. We know who we are playing for and why we play and we really enjoy the simple things about cricket, not only cricket but life too, and getting to know each other. I believe that’s an area where we are better than other teams – our team spirit and the culture that we have. We are very proud of that.”
South Africa are already Test cricket’s best touring team, having last lost a road series in 2006, and they are fast becoming a force in shorter formats on the road as well. Ironically, it was also in 2006 when South Africa first posted a total of 438, against Australia at the Wanderers. That match was also a decider in a series. South Africa have become increasingly good at winning those and this one was de Villiers’ favourite.
“It was a huge game, a final, history on the line. So with that in mind, it was definitely the biggest game and the best game I have captained. It was the complete performance with bat and ball.”
The match was only the second in which an innings featured three centurions. South Africa were also responsible for the first time that has happened – when Hashim Amla, Rilee Rossouw and de Villiers produced a trio of triple-figures in January against West Indies – and de Villiers’ ton today means he featured on both occasions. In the process, his three centuries on this tour have taken him to 23 in the format, past Hashim Amla and Herschelle Gibbs’ 21 for the most by a South African in ODIs.
De Villiers is fast establishing himself as a great, if he has not done that already, not to mention a fan favourite. Few supporters are as passionate or partisan as Indian ones but the cries of “AB! AB!” which rang around every venue were an anthem of appreciation for the South African captain. He knows there can be no better acknowledgment of the magnitude of what his team has achieved.
“It is very humbling to hear the crowd cheer for me like that. I can only be thankful and blessed with the opportunities I have had in my life. I will never forget it,” de Villiers said. “It is a great privilege and an honour to be playing front of big crowds in India. I always tell my teammates to enjoy it. It’s not always about the result but really enjoying ourselves and representing our country in the best manner.”
What has been particularly pleasing for de Villiers is the manner in which the young players are representing the country because it promises a successful future. In this series, Quinton de Kock has reemerged with the bat while Kagiso Rabada has announced himself with his pace and de Villiers is enjoying being able to watch their progression.
“Quinny has been through a tough patch but he has come back and he did it the right way. He went back to South Africa A cricket, did the hard yards, worked on his technique, scored a lot of runs. I have always been behind him and I feel he is going to be a great cricketer one day,” de Villiers said.
“And KG is another one that is knocking on the door of greatness in future. He knows he has got hard work ahead and lot of battles to go through, a lot of form changes. There is a lot of talent there, a great mind on his shoulders and easy to work with. It’s an absolute pleasure to be a captain to a guy like that who knows what he wants, pretty clear with his decision making and he wants to be there. You can see he is hungry and he wants to win games for South Africa.”
Already, Rabada and co have won two series in India and now they are eyeing their biggest success, in the longest format.
“It was an incredible achievement by us to win both series. The Test matches will be a big challenge again,” de Villiers said. “India will want to come back harder and stronger and we know they have the ability to do that but we will be up for it.
“We are very hungry for success, we are very hungry to create history, we love traveling abroad, that’s where our team spirit kicks in and really plays a role in us playing better cricket. There’s no reason why we cant win the Test series but we know there is a lot of hard work ahead.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.