AB De Villiers – The IPL GOAT?

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AB De Villiers – The IPL GOAT?As he bows out, AB de Villiers has a strong case to be considered the greatest in the IPL

The only overseas player to feature in all editions of IPL since its inception – AB de Villiers – has finally called it a day to his professional career. In a career which has seen it all, de Villiers has scaled mountains that very few have even dared to dream of. He hangs up his boots as one of the greatest ever, if not the greatest, in the short history of IPL. A deep dive into his evolution as a batter and the legacy he left in the tournament.

De Villiers retires as the sixth highest run-getter in the tournament and one of the two overseas players to scale the mountain of 5000 runs. It's not just the runs he scored that mattered but how he scored those and the chilling effect it put on the opposition bowlers and captains that, arguably, make him the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) in the tournament. With a bare minimum cut-off of 1000 runs, only eight players averaged more and only four scored at a faster rate than de Villiers in IPL. Chris Gayle's 351 sixes aside, no other player has hit as many maximums as de Villiers.

Most runs in IPL

In an extreme version of the game like T20, where one typically has to trade off stability for scoring rate, De Villiers defied all conventions. He achieved remarkable consistency in a format where it is hardest to achieve and married it with an extremely high scoring rate. 78 players have scored 1000+ career runs in IPL and of those 78 only five players have managed to achieve the double of averaging 35+ and scoring at a rate of 140 runs per 100 balls. Of the five the only one to play more than half as many innings as much as De Villiers is Gayle.

Players averaging 35+ & scoring at 140+ in IPL

*Minimum 1000 runs

Career in phases

De Villiers was bought by Delhi Daredevils in 2008 for a sum of USD $300,000 in 2008. He featured only in six games in the season and found it tough to get into the eleven with an already established Indian batting core. He hit gold the following season when IPL was shifted to his home base in South Africa where he finished third in the run charts behind Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist with 465 runs at 51.67 leading Delhi's batting as they finished top of the points table. He hit the only century of the season – 105* against CSK. He moved to Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2011 and forged the batting core of the side for the best part of the decade along with Gayle and Virat Kohli.

After finding his feet in the new franchise in 2011, the next five years witnessed the peak of De Villiers in the tournament. In each of the five seasons between 2012 and 2016, he managed to average 35+ and score at 150+. Among the 30 players with 1000 or more runs in these five years, he was the only one to score at 150+ strike rate and only three players could manage to top his average of 42.91. Despite being a third of the strongest batting core in IPL alongside Gayle and Kohli, his runs did not translate necessarily to success for the team, often owing to weak bowling attacks. RCB managed to reach the Play-Offs only twice in these five seasons and had a solitary final appearance. He largely batted at #4 in this period up until 2014, and in 2015 he moved up to #3 in attempt to face to optimize balls faced. 2015 and 2016 proved to be his most successful years in IPL scoring upwards of 500 runs at 45+ average and 165+ strike rate.

Following the high of 2016, De Villiers faced a rare slump in 2017 edition which saw RCB playing their home games in a newly re-laid Chinnaswamy track. Cracks began appearing in his game against spin at this point which kind of exacerbated in times further following his retirement from international cricket and less exposure to quality spin bowling outside of IPL. He reinvented himself as the best finisher in the tournament moving back down the order and this period witnessed him emerge as an elite pace hitter at the backend of the innings. He dominated death overs batting and no game was over until he was still out in the middle.

De Villiers – three phases in IPL

Death overs doyen

Perhaps no other batsmen made death overs batting a spectacle as much as De Villiers in IPL. He combined his power game to clear the boundaries with the dexterity of his 360-degree stroke play to dominate this phase of the game. Only MS Dhoni and Kieron Pollard scored more runs than De Villiers' 1868 runs in the death overs phase (Overs 16-20) in IPL. He scored these at an average of 46.70 and strike rate of 223 – no other player averaged 40 in this phase while only Gayle and Andre Russell could manage 200+ strike rate (minimum 500 runs).

Highest SR in death overs (16-20)

*Minimum 500 runs

The best against the best

The simplest way to gauge a player's greatness is to see how he fared against the best of his era. The two bowlers against whom he has scored most runs in IPL are the arguably two of the greatest fast bowlers in the tournament's history. De Villiers has hit 125 runs off Jasprit Bumrah averaging 41.66 and striking at 147. And against Bumrah's partner in crime and IPL's all-time leading wicket-taker Lasith Malinga, he has hit 124 runs at a strike rate of 203.27, never getting dismissed. De Villiers' battles in IPL against fellow South Africa compatriot Dale Steyn is stuff of legends now. Twice is three years, De Villiers smashed 20+ runs off Steyn's over to change the course of a match in the balance: 23 when 39 was required off 18 balls in Bengaluru in 2012 and 22 when 28 was need off 12 balls at the same venue two years later.

Head to Head vs select bowlers in IPL

His numbers against spinners are slightly less pronounced and it was as an area where he struggled in the last phase of his career, especially the ones who could turn the ball away from him. Rashid Khan, Shreyas Gopal and Krunal Pandya are among spinners that had success against him at the backend of his career. Since the start of 2017, he averaged only 27.62 against spin at a strike rate of 126 with almost half of his dismissals coming against spin.

Partnership with Kohli

The duo were the pillars of RCB in the last decade dominating the batting charts in the tournament and at most times their success mirrored that of the team. No other pair scored more runs together than De Villiers and Kohli and no one else stitched together more three-figure stands in IPL. They also hold the record for the highest partnership in tournament's history and are the only pair to aggregate two stands of over 200 not just in IPL but across all T20 cricket.

Most partnership runs in IPL

It's no coincidence that the best season for both the batsmen came in the same year. Kohli's magnum opus season in IPL 2016 saw him amass a record 973 runs while De Villiers aggregated 687 runs and finished third in the run charts. As a pair, they accumulated 939 partnership runs in the season which is by some distance the most by a pair in an IPL season (no other pair has yet touched 800-run mark in a season). Against Gujarat Lions in Bengaluru, they added 229 runs of just 16.1 oversfor the second wicket to register the highest partnership for any wicket in IPL and currently the second-highest for any wicket in all T20 cricket. They created history that evening by becoming the first pair of batsmen in IPL to complete centuries in the same innings.

One stat that will best define De Villiers' excellence in IPL is the fact that no player has won more Player of the Match awards in the tournament's history than his 25 – the first of which came as far back in 2009 and the latest a few months ago. De Villiers leaves behind a legacy that will be tough to replicate for the next generation of batters.

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