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You know you have done something spectacular if the umpire congratulates you © Getty Images

January 18, 2015. AB de Villiers, perhaps tired of all everyone’s bragging of 35-ball hundreds in EA Sports Cricket or Brian Lara Cricket, decided to emulate them in real world. In the process he broke many a world record, and set some that were beyond human imagination even half a decade back. He played many an astonishing shot around the ground, often bordering on the line of ridicule, daring to challenge the laws of dynamics and physiology. By the time he got out, he had already slammed 149 from a mere 44 balls. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at one of the most maniacal onslaughts in the history of sport. VIDEO: AB de Villiers’s 100 from 35 balls during South Africa vs West Indies 2014-15, 2nd ODI

 Any comparison of AB de Villiers’ 44-ball 149 with a human effort is probably an exercise in futility. Any adjective would be embarrassingly inadequate, for the world has not witnessed anything like this. Ever!

Tom Sueter almost committed blasphemy went he stepped out to counter a bowler. WG Grace shocked the world the same way when he mastered both front-foot and back-foot play; Victor Trumper, with his breathtaking strokeplay around the park; Don Bradman, by volume of numbers. Viv Richards was so disdainful of pace that he played forward to thunderbolts and dismissed them to the stands.

De Villiers, too, oscillated between breathtaking strokeplay and gritty works of attrition. Like Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, de Villiers is a once-in-a-generation batsman. Unlike the two champions, however, de Villiers redefined batsmanship, playing strokes batsmen have not dared to dream en route to scoring runs and smashing records.

And then, there were pioneers of strokes: they looked down upon KS Ranjitsinhji’s leg-glance with contempt, for playing on the leg-side was not a thing gentlemen did. His nephew’s reverse-sweep was just as jaw-dropping, though people got used to it by the time Mushtaq Mohammad resurfaced it. Kevin Pietersen improved on the reverse-sweep and popularised the switch hit (the legality of which is still in doubt).

Strokeplay evolved with time. Sammy Carter had tried the scoop, somewhat successfully, a century back. Douglas Marillier may be a forgotten name, revived the stroke, winning a match with it, while Tillakaratne Dilshan took it to the next level. The ‘uppercut’ became fashionable again, after the days of Eddie Barlow. Mysterious terms like ‘helicopter shot’ became a part of cricket glossary. And then, there is de Villiers, who can play all of them, and more, and with consistency hitherto unknown.

In other words, de Villiers has revolutionised batsmanship more than anyone in at least a quarter of a decade.

The fact that de Villiers is a freak of nature was already established way before the 149 happened. We all knew it. We all knew he was exceptional. What we did not know was the fact that he could unleash his entire repertoire, repeat his strokes at will, play any stroke against any ball to any part of the ground, and keep doing all that for an hour.

If WG had managed to combine front-foot and back-foot play, AB can play forward, backward, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and more. Some day he may even play them underground.

Johannesburg was not just another great innings. Johannesburg was not a landmark show, or an all-time-great performance.

Johannesburg was an innings out of Marvel Comics.

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Do not imitate at home © Getty Images

The Hash-Ro-show

South Africa had won the Test series 2-0 (the rain-curtailed second Test at St George’s Park was a draw). West Indies won the first T20I at Newlands, and most spectacularly, the one that followed at New Wanderers. South Africa had piled up 231 for 7, but Chris Gayle (90 in 41 balls), Marlon Samuels (60 in 39), and the entire middle-order rose to the challenge: West Indies reached the target in 19.2 overs.

Following the 1-2 defeat, South Africa blew West Indies away in the first ODI at Kingsmead, winning by 115 runs: Hashim Amla, David Miller, and AB all got fifties, and Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, and Imran Tahir took 3 wickets apiece. De Villiers’ 94-ball 81 was a splendid knock, but it seemed a yawnathon when compared to what followed.

Make no mistake: New Wanderers is the ground of big scores. Australia had set the world record ODI score of 434, only for South Africa to chase it down. Chasing 458 in the fourth innings against India in 2013-14, the hosts finished with 450 for 7. And, as mentioned above, West Indies chased down 232 in a T20I.

Jason Holder put South Africa in, and Amla walked out with Rossouw. The first 20 overs accounted for 101, hardly an indication of what was to follow. Amla (54) and Rossouw (43) had set up the launching pad.

It started with the 21st over (Samuels’ first), when Amla pulled and cut for two fours and flicked one for a brace. Then Rossouw went after Samuels, driving him past extra-cover for four and slog-sweeping for six off consecutive deliveries.

Rossouw went past Amla in the 28th over with a well-placed brace to wide mid-wicket off Sulieman Benn. His maiden hundred, off 102 balls, came with a pull off Andre Russell. Amla square-drove Dwayne Smith in the next over to bring up his hundred.

209 for no loss, in 35 overs. How much would they score? 325? 350, at most? Or, if de Villiers and Miller cut loose, 375?

Rossouw continued, placing Holder past point and pulling him for 10 off 2. On came Jerome Taylor: Rossouw hit him past square-leg and straight for consecutive boundaries before playing the third ball to mid-off.

247 for 1 in 38.3 overs at 6.41. 350 sounded just about perfect. 375, well, was possible.

Abraham Benjamin de Villiers strode out, in pink — a colour boys are discouraged to wear, for pink makes them look feminine, for pink is not macho.

Fifty-nine minutes, forty-four balls

The first ball he faced was a casual slap past mid-on for four. A few singles later de Villiers was back on strike. From 4 balls he had scored 8. After that first four he had not done anything spectacular.

On came Russell. Down came the bat. The ball sped through mid-off for four. The next ball was outside off, but de Villiers had already moved in to the line; the ball soared over square-leg. The next was a straight one; most would have called it a decent ball; but this was de Villiers, who moved his left leg out of the way in a flash, and lofted it over mid-off.

Russell was clearly nervous. He knew it had to be a yorker. He tried his best, but de Villiers went down on one knee outside the line and slid his bat under the ball; over fine-leg it went, past the ropes.

4, 6, 4, 6: Russell had fallen apart. AB had raced to 28 off 8.

Amla, looking solid with 115 at the other end, thought it was better to get out of the way: the next ball, an attempted yorker landed into the stands over long-off. South Africa reached 276 for 1 in 40 overs. 400 was a possibility. De Villiers was, well, 38 from 13 balls.

Two singles were followed by three sixes and a four. De Villiers reached his fifty in 16 balls, bettering Sanath Jayasuriya’s world record of 17.

Note: Later in 2015, Kusal Janith Perera and Martin Guptill also slammed 17-ball fifties.

Forget playing it, can you even name the shot? © Getty Images
Forget playing it, can you even name the shot? © Getty Images

Confusion reigned among the West Indians. How do you stop a man who is on an 18-ball 61 and is doing whatever he feels like?

Taylor bounced, and de Villiers immediately went for the hook. The ball took the top-edge and sailed over long-leg. Amla ran two balls later, and ‘acquired’ five overthrows. Then came that shot.

It was a leg-stump ball. The leg-side fielders waited in anticipation. If only, if only…

De Villiers’ knee came down. The bat turned in his hand and came down in a flash, its face now towards point. The reverse-sweep-cum-leg-glance (?) bisected point and third-man — for both men were inside the circle.

Smith’s next over went for four fours. 82 from 26. Suddenly a hundred seemed a viable option, as did the possibility of Corey Anderson’s 36-ball 100 being overhauled.

It took Amla four balls (and five runs) to give the strike back. Russell followed that with a yorker. A good over, finally?

Once again, it was not a bad ball. It was outside off. It was pitched up. But AB was too quick. Like a flash of lightning he moved, got outside the line of the ball, and it landed into the stands over square-leg.

Amla got out of de Villiers’ way two balls later. De Villiers needed 12 from 7 to make the world record his own. Holder attempted a yorker but was slammed straight over his head for four, then slog-swept behind square-leg for six.

He needed 2 more from 5 balls. He needed only 1.

Holder switched to round the wicket. It did not matter. Once again de Villiers went down on one knee. Once again he middled it. Once again he deliberately hit in the air. The bat almost thudded on to his left shoulder.

This time the slog-sweep disappeared over mid-wicket.

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Hunks in pink: Amla hugs de Villiers after his 31-ball hundred © Getty Images

Not willing to let the last ball of the over go, he stooped slightly on the back knee and hit it high and straight, over Holder, into the stand. 110 from 32. Could he get to 150?

Russell restored some sanity, conceding a mere 5 off 5 balls. The sixth ball was on the block-hole as well; de Villiers moved towards the leg and sliced it in the air.

The stumps of a mortal would have been uprooted, for the probability of an impact was too low. But this was de Villiers, so the ball flew over the point boundary. Yes, six more.

Amla responded with two extra-cover drives off Taylor to bring up his 150 off 139 balls. South Africa crossed 400. De Villiers was back on strike for the 49th over…

On came Smith. De Villiers responded with 30 runs. 147 from 41. 436 for 1.

Would de Villiers emulate Shane Watson’s record of the fastest 150, in 83 balls? Would South Africa score the first ODI 450, or at least go past Sri Lanka’s record of 443?

There was a single from Amla and a brace from de Villiers. They were on track. The next ball was outside off, and — somehow — AB had a go and missed it.

He hit the next ball to deep extra-cover — to a fielder. Jonathan Carter took the catch, but did not celebrate, for he was standing in front of the pavilion: he had to join the ground in congratulating de Villiers on his way out.

The West Indians may not be the best team in the world anymore, but they have always been graceful, even in defeat.

Miller arrived, but never got to face a ball. With two balls to go, the unthinkable happened: Amla missed both. South Africa finished on 439 for 2. The last 12 overs had accounted for a round 200.

Numerous records were broken during the innings. They have been documented by anyone with any kind of access to cricket data. Some of them were obvious records; some, not so apparent to the eye of the common man.

Online journalists complained about AB de Villiers scoring at a rate faster than their typing speed. Accolades poured in, most significantly, from Anderson. Print media had a field day.

I was fortunate enough to be a witness to the carnage; and I issued a warning for youngsters who did the same, for de Villiers was hardly the ideal role model for an aspiring batsman to follow.

The score-sheet read 421146466.22.1666461411.44.64666.616646622.W

The response

Gayle was West Indies’ best chance. He decided to live and die by the sword, and perished against Morne Morkel for a 13-ball 19. Leon Johnson followed, but West Indies, to their credit, did reach 122 for 2 in 21 overs.

Then Smith (64) and Samuels (40) fell in quick intervals, and the steam ran out of the chase. Carter scored 40 and Denesh Ramdin 57, and after West Indies were 253 for 7 in the 42nd over, Darren Sammy and Holder batted out time. West Indies finished on 291 for 7.

What followed?

– Philander and Tahir bowled out West Indies for 122 at East London, giving South Africa a 9-wicket win. St George’s Park witnessed a dramatic finish: West Indies needed 24 in 23 balls when 9 wickets were down, but Sheldon Cottrell hung around, allowing Russell to see them through. Amla and Rossouw scored hundreds again at Centurion, and South Africa triumphed by 131 runs, clinching the series 4-1.

– De Villiers eventually broke Watson’s record in ICC World Cup 2015 against West Indies, reaching there in 64 balls.

Brief scores:

South Africa 439 for 2 in 50 overs (Hashim Amla 153*, Rilee Rossouw 128, AB de Villiers 149) beat West Indies 291 for 7 in 50 overs (Dwayne Smith 64, Marlon Samuels 40, Denesh Ramdin 57, Jonathan Carter 40) by 148 runs.

Man of the Match: AB de Villiers.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)