‘If AB de Villiers is batting, your role is to give him strike’
“If AB de Villiers is batting on 50 and I come out to bat with him, my role will be to rotate the strike and give it to him.”
When Mandeep Singh, one of IPL’s domestic stars, said this in a chat with Wisden.com two days before Royal Challengers Bangalore’s first home game of IPL 2018, against Kings XI Punjab, he would not have guessed that he’d be called upon to fulfil that role as early as April 13.
Chasing 156 for victory, Royal Challengers were 87-4 in the 12th over, still needing 69 runs off 48 balls. R Ashwin had just finished his four overs, dismissing Quinton de Kock and Sarfaraz Khan in his last. While AB de Villiers was not yet on 50 – he was unbeaten on a run-a-ball 21 at the time – Mandeep’s role when he came out to bat was pretty much the same.
The South African had been dismissed for 44 after getting a start in the first game against Kolkata Knight Riders and that proved vital as Kolkata cruised home by four wickets. Bangalore would not have wanted a repeat of that.
“T20 is a tricky format. People like Andre Russell or AB de Villiers, they can hit sixes at will. But if someone is bowling well, say Bhuvneshwar Kumar who can bowl six yorkers, and is not giving you anything, then what can you do?” Mandeep had said after the Kolkata game.
“Sometimes, even the best struggle.”
De Villiers, certainly one of the best in the game, was batting with a strike-rate of 100 on Friday, which was modest by his standards. The Punjab spinners had done well, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the 17-year-old from Afghanistan who probably had the moment of his short cricketing career earlier in the game when he clean bowled Virat Kohli, had only conceded 10 runs in his three overs.
One would have thought his was the over Bangalore would play out and target the fast bowlers on a surface that was assisting the spinners. Mandeep, though, pulled Mujeeb through square leg for a boundary on the third ball of the 17th over, with his team needing 41 off the last four. He then gave the strike to de Villiers, who was still on 34 off 32, but by the time the over ended, de Villiers had taken the game in a different direction.
Two sixes off consecutive balls not only reduced the equation to 22 off 18, but also shifted the balance of the game to the home team.
De Villiers hit Mohit Sharma for another six in the next over to bring up his half-century and although both set batsmen were dismissed in the 19th, they left with just five runs needed off the last over, having added 59 runs for the fifth wicket.
This wasn’t the first time that Mandeep and de Villiers had rescued Bangalore. In the Eliminator in 2015 against Rajasthan Royals, the duo added 113 runs for the third wicket, in what Mandeep described as “challenging conditions” in Pune.
“I remember one innings with him in Pune, the [Eliminator] in 2015. The ball was doing a lot,” Mandeep recalled. Bangalore finished with 180-4, being 46-2 at one stage, and won the match by 71 runs after Rajasthan were bowled out for 109.
“I was on zero after six balls, but I scored a 50 (54) and he scored 60-odd (66). We won the game in very challenging conditions. I think about that innings because I had a good head position. That was the year he told me [about head position] and that paid off.”Elaborating on the advice he received from his senior, Mandeep said, “A lot of coaches used to tell me about my head falling [over] because I was playing away from the body.
“[De Villiers] said, ‘I will stand in front of you and you play’. Slowly, my head position improved and with it I had more time against the fast bowlers. That’s one advice that helped me a lot.”
Mandeep scored 157 runs from 14 games at 22.42 and a strike-rate of 157 in the 2015 season. And with more chances to learn from de Villiers, he’ll be hoping to improve on that.