AB de Villiers got out to pace in all four innings © Getty Images
AB de Villiers got out to pace in all four innings © Getty Images

South Africa are 2-0 up in the Freedom Series against India but star batsman AB de Villiers is “impressed” with India’s pace attack. He admitted that the visitors have managed to surprise hosts. De Villiers with 200 runs leads the run charts in this series. He has top-scored for South Africa in three out of four innings. However, on all four occasions, he has been dismissed by a pacer. While Jasprit Bumrah got him out twice in the Cape Town Test, in the Centurion Test he fell to Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami.

“India have really impressed me. They have surprised us in terms of pace bowling. They have showed a lot more skill and definitely there is a lot more pace than we expected,” de Villiers was quoted by PTI on Thursday, at an event to launch the Pink ODI against India on February 10.

De Villiers confessed that he is enjoying his return to Test cricket last month after almost a two-year hiatus.

“Test cricket is the ultimate challenge. It was very enjoyable to be part of a really important and good series win. I think it was a great team effort from everyone, from the fielders, to the bowlers, and to big pressure moments with the bat in hand.

“It was just an all-round good team performance. I am obviously enjoying my cricket and loving it out there with the boys. It has been a great couple of Test matches,” he said.

India too dependent on Virat Kohli, believes Faf du Plessis
India too dependent on Virat Kohli, believes Faf du Plessis

Before his return to Tests, AB had last played in whites, in early 2016. The South African stalwart feels is feeling great about his body. He has taken some fantastic catches and his acrobatics are back.

“It feels like my debut back in 2004 when I started as an opening batsman, then a keeper at no.7 and back to opening, and up and down.

My body is feeling right at the moment. I do have niggles but that is part of Test cricket. You never get up feeling a hundred percent. The back is still there, the ankles and knees, everything is hurting at times but to be playing the ultimate form of the game again, it has been a great challenge,” he added.

On Virat Kohli’s 153

Though de Villiers leads the run charts, Kohli is the only centurion in the series. His lone hand of 153 kept India long in the contest before the second innings collapse. De Villiers

“Virat’s knock in the first innings was very, very good. I did congratulate him afterwards. But there were quite a few guys who contributed as well. Faf du Plessis got a half- century and Dean Elgar played a very good hand too,” he said. “We are now looking forward to the Wanderer’s test with more bounce and pace compared to the Centurion wicket. Overall, it was a really good Test. We adapted well to the conditions and did what we needed to do.

‘Not much difference between three formats’

De Villiers wants the South African top-order to contribute in the Johannesburg Test that starts January 24.

“We have tried to do that over the last few Test matches, but the wicket didn’t allow it and some good bowling as well. It is credit to the Indian bowlers,” he added.

Though the wicket did not allow free scoring, de Villiers managed to maintain a strike rate of 66 in the series. How?

De Villiers elaborated: “I watch the ball and just play. I have always said that I don’t feel there’s a big difference between the three formats. It is just a mindset of applying yourself to the wicket and conditions. That’s always been the way that I have played. So it is definitely not something that I force.”

On personal milestones

AB missed out on his 22nd Test hundred, after falling for 80 in the second innings at Centurion. He has no qualms as South Africa won the game.

“I don’t go out there to get hundreds. If I can get out there and contribute 50s and 60s, I take that. Unfortunately for me it was one of those Tests in the last one. But another opportunity, another Test match is coming up to contribute to the team…If I get to score a hundred doing so then it’s a bonus,” he explained.

On Markram and Ngidi

Aiden Markram with a fine 94 in the first innings and debutant Lungi Ngidi with 6 for 39 were two young heroes from the Centurion Test. AB believes that the current South African side has got a good mix of youth and experience to take the side forward.

“I have been extremely impressed by them, the way they have come in and the maturity Aiden and Lungi have shown. KG (Rabada) is obviously the number one bowler in the world and still a youngster. In my eyes, he just started off the other day and has shown the maturity of a guy who has played 10 seasons,” he said.

Being the mentor

“Hopefully one day they will remember ‘that old guy who had a good impact on me’. Faf has been leading the side well, there is confidence, and it is easy to fit in as the senior player.

“I was captain not long ago and I know what the captain needs from his senior players. All of us have been leaders in the past and I think we really work together well as a team,” the 33-year-old added.

No Indian side has lost 0-3 in South Africa and Kohli will look to avoid the same. However, that was the scoreline South Africa returned with, in the 2015-16 series in India. Are South Africa looking to return the favours?

De Villiers avoided sounding over confident by joking, “I can’t remember what happened in 2015. Oh, we won the ODI series, yeah.”