AB De Villiers, an innovator, an unorthodox batsman with an orthodox set-up, a batting freak, and finally, the Unicorn. The Unicorn term came up due to his ability to dominate both pace and spin equally, which remains a dream for many T20 batters worldwide. He combines his rapid bat speed with sheer placement to wreak havoc over spinners and pacers in equal measures. But his batting numbers against spin during the 2019 edition of the IPL endured a bit of dip compared to his career numbers while his numbers against pace stayed intact. The player who has been hailed as the Unicorn was reduced to a pace power hitter. Let’s look at the reasoning behind his low returns against spin in 2019 and whether RCB can bank on him in the UAE conditions for the current IPL season.
If we compare the year-wise batting numbers of AB De Villiers against spin since 2016, the 2016 & 2018 seasons stand out where he was batting in peak form. The 2017 season is an anomaly due to multiple reasons – injury issues, he had to leave the tournament early for national duty, and most importantly, the change in nature of the Chinnaswamy track. The batting heaven became a slow turner in that particular season due to the installation of the drainage system at the venue. So 2019 stands out to be a poor season for him in terms of his record against the spinners. Did he struggle against one particular type of spinner, or was it a generic issue against all types? The graphic below illustrates that he did struggle against all types of spinners in terms of either average or strike-rate. But digging deep helps us understand the underlying issue much more clearer.
Troubles against the Defensive Offie
Any right-hand batsman would like to fancy himself against an off-spinner, but AB De Villiers’ record against off-spin in 2019 suggests otherwise. 40 runs at an average of 13.33 with a SR of 125 doesn’t stand up well to the class the man possesses. If we split those numbers based on the bowlers he faced, one can identify the reason behind those numbers.
From the graphic above, we can identify that ABD faced half of those off-spin deliveries against Ashwin and struck at just 86.67. Ashwin has always managed to keep AB De Villiers silent with him conceding runs at run a ball in all T20s against him. ABD likes to give himself some room and targets the off-side or employs the sweep regularly against spinners. But Ashwin’s defensive line and lengths, coupled with subtle variations in pace, help him to keep AB De Villiers stay put. But the 3 dismissals against the other off-spinners are intriguing as he mistimed a pull of Harbhajan in Chepauk, got bowled by a natural variation off Nabi, and got caught at the long-off boundary while looking to accelerate in the death overs off Narine. The only reasoning behind those could be the lack of batting time against the spinners since it was his first IPL after retirement.
Issues against Tall Left-arm spinners
There’s not much to read over ABD’s stats against left-arm spinners as he faced only 19 balls and 90% off them against Axar Patel & Krunal Pandya. Like Ashwin, both have a good record against AB De Villiers in IPL, especially dismissing him on four separate occasions.
Both of them are defensive spinners who like to cramp batsman for room and firing in the ball frequently, which takes out both ABD’s favourite shots, inside-out over covers, and sweeps out of the equation.
The Decline against Wrist-Spin
Wrist Spin started to dominate white-ball cricket since the 2015 World Cup. Nowadays, every IPL team has more than one leg-spinner/Chinaman in their squads. Apart from the 2017 season, AB De Villiers, which we had discussed earlier, has some good numbers against the wrist spinners in 2016 and 2018. But 2019 saw him scoring at a lesser pace against those bowling types, albeit at a better average. When comparing his stats against wrist-spin year-wise, there’s a consistent drop in his scoring rate.
There are a couple of reasons behind this, one the emergence of Rashid Khan and S Gopal’s likes, both of whom had troubled him a lot in 2018 & 2019. The second one being his early-season rustiness while facing the spinners, which is evident when we compare his dot ball ratio and boundary ratio between 2018 & 2019. The dot ball ratio increased from 28.41 in 2018 to 34.78 in 2019 while his boundary ratio decreased from 56.92 in 2018 to 47.5 in 2019. AB De Villiers failing to time the ball consistently against spin and playing the sweep a bit early/late in the 2019 IPL accentuates the above point.
To conclude, AB De Villiers spin game hasn’t deteriorated as much as his 2019 IPL number suggests, but he’s definitely slowed down a bit and with the IPL now shifted to UAE, he couldn’t be relied upon by RCB against spinners as much as he could’ve been earlier. The left-handers surrounding him in the RCB lineup in the 2020 season should help him to an extent. While ABD has slipped down to become average against spin, he’s still a beast against pace, and RCB should look at deploying him more against them to get the best out of him.