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Was De Villiers' the best ODI innings of them all? I don't think so

AB de Villiers stunned the cricketing world with his retirement - and now he's in the BPL. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)
Expert
20th January, 2015
76
1987 Reads

When Alex Hales bludgeoned an unbeaten century against Sri Lanka in the 2014 World Twenty20, it provided England’s high point from a forgettable tournament.

Hales’ performance, which turned what appeared to be a losing cause into the opposite, was a fine display of hitting; of natural, uncluttered talent coming to the fore in supreme style.

Yet while that may be the case, a website – the BBC if I remember correctly – subsequent posing the question ‘was this the greatest ever innings for England?’ was somewhat amiss.

As is too often the case, an inability to look past what has only just taken place gave the article in question a shallow feel and took those it was aimed at as fools.

You see this kind of thing in every sport. Zlatan Ibrahimovich scores an outstanding if speculative volley for Sweden against England and it’s hailed as the best goal ever scored. No thought, no perspective, no context, just hyperbole and that’s it. There are many other examples but you get my drift.

This leads me to events from Johannesburg at the weekend and more specifically AB de Villiers’ scarcely believable 31-ball hundred against West Indies.

I wouldn’t have been the only person doing a double take when I first viewed the scorecard, as an effort like that takes some doing. If De Villiers turned out in the league I used to play in, at my former home ground which is about the same size as The Wanderers, against the weakest attack in the competition, he would be hard pushed to pull off anything resembling Sunday’s fireworks.

Audacious, daring, enterprising, brutal, clinical. All of the aforementioned and plenty else, it was a scintillating display by the game’s premier batsman at the peak of his powers.

Regardless of the surface or the quality of the visiting attack or the short boundaries it was a magnificent spectacle and worthy of the numerous platitudes sent in the South African’s direction.

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To look at any relevant social media afterwards, however, was to see De Villiers’ effort placed at the very peak of one-day international innings, of all others brushed to one side in the wake of an hour of spellbinding savagery.

There can be little argument with De Villiers’ standing in the modern game; he is, across all three formats, the finest batsman on the planet and his ability to alter his method accordingly is what sets him well apart from the supporting cast.

But let’s not get carried away by placing it at the top of the pile.

With little thinking required, half a dozen ODI innings of far greater significance would usurp De Villiers if it was necessary to put together a list of the all-time greatest.

Viv Richards’ 189 against England in 1984; Steve Waugh’s back-to-the-wall hundred versus the South Africans in the 1999 World Cup; Aravinda de Silva’s century in the 1996 World Cup final; Graham Gooch against the Indians in the semi-final in 1987; Romesh Kaluwitharana in the build-up to the 1996 tournament; Ricky Ponting in Johannesburg in the decisive game of the 2003 event.

There are more, and by and large it’s all about the context. Pressurised situations, crunch contests, game-changing performances, era-defining or trendsetting cameos are criteria that De Villiers’ assault lacked.

An argument could be put forward for the latter, after all, it was a microcosm of the way in which limited-overs batting has changed beyond all recognition from not so long ago but it lacked the others.

That isn’t to criticise – that would be churlish and the innings should be taken for what it was – but a glance to the past, the very recent or further back if you wish, would provide all the evidence you need to quantify.

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The greatest of its kind perhaps – no other late-innings salvo I’ve seen really comes close – but not the greatest of all. Not by a long way.

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