AB de Villiers
AB de Villiers of the Royal Challengers Bangalore square cuts against the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL 2020 game at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on October 17, 2020. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

AB de Villiers is a magician at the crease. The cricket bat is his magic wand. No target is too far for him, and no match is over until he’s out. For, the South African has conjured far too many wins from impossible situations. He’s indeed the Harry Houdini of cricket.

De Villiers’ latest escape act came against the Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2020 on Saturday. The situation was dire for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. When skipper Virat Kohli fell, Bangalore were far behind the run rate: 76 runs were required off 42 balls. It didn’t worry De Villiers as he took time to play himself in and accelerated with a flurry of boundaries.

Yet, the target seemed stiff. But De Villiers was still at the crease, and nobody dares dream of a Rajasthan win.

Over 19: Bangalore needed 35 from 12 balls. That’s when De Villiers exploded into action. He reeled off sixes from the first three deliveries of Jayadev Unadkat, and the over yielded 25 runs. The match was as good as over. De Villiers finished the game with a six of Jofra Archer, as Bangalore overhauled the target of 178 with two balls to spare.

It was a surreal innings. An unbeaten 55 from 22 balls, with six sixes. That’s a De Villiers special. Every season, IPL fans are treated to De Villiers specials in high-pressure situations. And all these knocks come at a time when rest of the batsmen struggle to get the scoreboard moving.

Rajasthan may blame their wretched luck for the loss. But the question remains why Archer didn’t bowl the penultimate over. Given De Villiers’ form, it may not have made a difference. But Archer stood a better chance against De Villiers than Unadkat. By the time Archer bowled the final over, the game was pretty much over.

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But captain Steve Smith can take heart from the positives gleaned from the game. The reworked batting order helped rekindle Robin Uthappa’s form, and Rajasthan had the best start in several games. With 50 coming in the powerplay, Smith didn’t play like a cat on hot bricks. He took his time at the crease, and the result was a half-century; his best knock in recent weeks.

But all this didn’t translate into victory. And the new tactics must have arrived too late. It looks like Rajasthan have missed the playoff bus unless a couple of teams in the top four stumble very badly. It’s a sad commentary on a team packed with four world-class players.