Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

RCB duo Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers a triumph for transnational cricket but we ache for more

Osman Samiuddin pours over the Bangalore batting superstars and explains why their exploits this IPL season makes him just want more.
AB De Villiers, left, and Virat Kohli, have produced a remarkable partnership during this IPL season. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
AB De Villiers, left, and Virat Kohli, have produced a remarkable partnership during this IPL season. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

One of the endearing things about cricket is that there is no end to the ways in which we can frame the interactions and chemistry between teammates and their feats.

It is a team game yes, played by 11 on the field and an army supporting them off it. As undeniably, it is a desperately solitary game, batsman against bowler at its heart, but sometimes at its most despairing, batsman against himself, bowler against the world, one seeking solace, the other seeking retribution.

Sometimes we see them as trios at work, such as the great West Indian middle order of Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell, or an Australian top order that could begin with Geoff Marsh, Mark Taylor and David Boon, and equally with Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting and be as fierce.

The finest bowling attacks have been quartets, though if you disregard the West Indies pace years, by and large attacks have predominated as trios. Opening batsmen come in pairs, as do opening bowlers.

If batting, by nature, is lonesome, then it is nurtured and nourished through partnerships. How many great batting pairs have we seen just in recent years? VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf (or Misbah-ul-Haq), Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis: batsmen define themselves, but for a better picture they are defined by their partners too.

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All of which is a way to get to the point of AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli in what has become not the ninth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but the pair’s own little plaything.

On Tuesday evening, de Villiers pulled Royal Challengers Bangalore out of the fire in the first Qualifier against Gujarat Lions. Chasing 159, they had stumbled to 29-5 and 68-6 while he was at the crease and they still won it with 10 balls to spare.

Kohli failed that evening, but usually and frighteningly the pair have been in it together. In order, their partnerships this season read: 157, 107, 59, 155, 51, 17, 3, 1, 229, 115, 7 and 12. Between them they have five hundreds and 12 fifties, which are metrics, remember, that are increasingly redundant in Twenty20 because of their lower frequency.

Kohli could end the season with a thousand runs, which has a faint whiff of that old-school English county record of a thousand runs before the end of May. Together the pair have 1601 runs; if you take out Murali Vijay’s 453 for Kings XI Punjab, the entire Punjab squad have scored just three runs more than Kohli and de Villiers.

Whatever your views on the IPL, or the bowlers they have faced, the surfaces they have batted on or the smallness of the boundaries they breach or clear, it is hard to suppress the scorching heat of that streak. It must be unparalleled in the format.

The only thing missing is a signature crowd chant to accompany their feats, or maybe a catchy newspaper cartoon caption, as there was for Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson during the 1974-75 Ashes: “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Thomson don’t get ya, Lillee must”. Heck, at least give us some decent memes to tide us over.

In some ways, their union is the kind of border-erasing, transnational triumph cricket used to ache for. If only, we lamented, Sunil Gavaskar and Zaheer Abbas could bat together. Or how about that time when Barry Richards and Viv Richards did bat together in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket and put on 135 in just 90 minutes?

True, nowadays it does not quite elicit the same thrill, dulled plenty by the abundance of such unions in leagues around the world, around the year. But, as it did with the Richardses that day in January 1978, the coming together of this level of quality — so repeatedly — and the simple idea that two of the very best batsmen in the world are batting together is enough.

They must be aware of this as well. They do not, according to Kohli, converse much when in the middle. But one little snippet during that mad 229-run partnership against Gujarat Lions is revealing.

Kohli was on 65 when Shivil Kaushik came on to bowl the 19th over: as he hit him for a couple of sixes, de Villiers sauntered up and asked, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Kohli told him he did not want to hear it, but both knew the hundred was on, even at that late stage. Many batsmen might think of having a go — that is just the way batting is now. How many, though, could actually do it?

One final thought and this is either a function of age or a by-product from months of only Twenty20, but what kind of thrills might come from watching this pair bat in longer formats, say a Test, against challenges that are less homogenised than those of the IPL?

I could ache for that.

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Updated: May 25, 2016 04:00 AM



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