Just how good is AB de Villiers?

Auckland – Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq rates the South Africa captain as the best one-day batsman in the world, which certainly confirms the International Cricket Council rankings.

South Africa pace bowler Dale Steyn says watching AB de Villiers develop over the years has been like watching the character Neo in the movie The Matrix.

De Villiers’ performance could be pivotal when South Africa play Pakistan in a Cricket World Cup Pool B match tomorrow at Auckland’s Eden Park. Pakistan are desperate to win and secure a spot in the quarterfinals, while South Africa want to continue their run of good form.

Rain is threatening to interrupt the match, a factor which could push both teams into batting more aggressively to ensure they maintain high run rates.

New Zealand’s MetService is predicting moderate rain showers to hit during the day-night match, a slight improvement from previous forecasts predicting heavy showers. The covers remained on the pitch much of today as showers came and went.

South Africa have three wins and one loss from their four matches. They scored more than 400 runs in each of their last two games, against the West Indies and Ireland, winning each game by more than 200 runs.

Against the West Indies, De Villiers was sublime, stroking an unbeaten 162 off 66 balls. He reached his century off 52 balls, the second-fastest in any World Cup game.

Misbah said Pakistan have some good bowlers who had a plan against De Villiers and who could put pressure on him.

“But the only way of stopping AB is just try to get him out,” he added. “That’s the only way I think. Otherwise, if he’s there, it’s not easy to stop him.”

Steyn joked that the way to stop De Villiers might be to try to trip him on the way out of his hotel.

“He’s just playing shots that I don’t think most people have ever seen before,” he said.

Steyn, who began his first-class career with De Villiers, said he remembers a talented young batsman scoring a 50 in each of his first two innings and then just continuing to get better.

“It’s like watching The Matrix movie really,” he said. “There’s Neo for you right there. Like he just doesn’t understand how good he is ... I think he’s actually figured out now there is no roof or cap on how good he can possible be. It’s limitless what he can do.”

Pakistan have had a shaky start in the World Cup. After losing their first two games against India and the West Indies, the 1992 champions picked up four points with wins over Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates.

Misbah rejected the idea that Pakistan’s top-order batsmen, none of whom have career strike rates above 80, need to be more aggressive. He said the team have often lost early wickets and those batsmen have been required to rebuild the innings.

A strong bowling attack, he said, ensured that if Pakistan scored more than 250 runs they could put pressure on any opponent.

“We have our targets and we play according to our strengths,” he said.

“The kind of start we had in the last game, if we can really repeat it against the top sides, we could really manage to score 300.”

Meanwhile, Steyn said it had been hard to concentrate on cricket over the last couple of days with his mind on the wildfires in his home of Cape Town. The fires have destroyed homes and caused hundreds of people to evacuate. Steyn said he was in Canberra, the Australian capital, when he took a frightening call.

“The people who were looking after my house called me and said ‘Listen, you’ve got five minutes, we’re evacuating this place, what do you want us to take out of your house?’” Steyn said.

“I’ve never been more scared in my life. I’m sitting halfway across the world, and everything that I’ve ever earned, or got in my life – every wicket, every ball, every bit of clothing in my 31 years – is in that house.”

He said other players on the team were also affected, and the lawn of retired all-rounder Jacques Kallis was in flames. But he said firefighters and volunteers had done a tremendous job beating back the fires.

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