AB de Villiers still wants to prove he deserves a place in South African team after brilliant century

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AB de Villiers said he felt that he needed to prove he was still worth his place in the South African team, after continuing his return to Test cricket with a match-changing hundred against Australia.

De Villiers made a magnificent 126 not out and took South Africa to a likely series-levelling position on the third day of the second Test against Australia at St George’s Park on Sunday.

After taking a first-innings lead of 139, South Africa reduced Australia to 180 for five at the close, a slender lead of 41 with only five wickets remaining.

“I was very motivated to prove that I can still play this game,” said De Villiers, whose performance was described by his former captain Graeme Smith as “one of the great Test innings”.

De Villiers did not play Test cricket between January 2016 and December 2017, after he decided he needed time away from the game.

“I was very motivated to prove to everyone that I can still play the game, even though I have been away for a while,” he said.

De Villiers insisted he had never fallen out of love with the five-day format.

“I was just tired of playing. I was just flat, physically and mentally. There were other factors, I had become a dad, there were a lot of things happening in my life. I felt I needed to breathe a bit.”

Against a powerful Australian bowling attack, on a pitch where other batsmen had struggled to score freely, De Villiers made batting look easy. He played some breathtaking strokes in hitting 20 fours and a six in a 146-ball innings.

“He is one of the best players in the world, if not the best,” said Australian bowling coach David Saker. “It seemed like he was batting on a different wicket to everyone else.”

De Villiers claimed he was nervous as he approached his 22nd Test century, his sixth against Australia and his first against any opponents in more than three years.

He celebrated exuberantly when he reached the mark with an upper cut for four against Pat Cummins.

“It was right up there with the best feeling ever,” he said. “I was very nervous in the nineties.”

He told batting partner Vernon Philander that he was struggling to breathe and that his legs felt numb.

“I was constantly reminding myself through the nineties that it’s not about yourself, it’s about contributing as many runs as possible to the team. That made me a feel a little bit better,” he said.

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Vintage AB de Villiers shows what Test cricket will miss once he calls it a day

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South Africa star batsman AB de Villiers proved he is still on top of his game in Test cricket despite taking a near two-year break from the longest format.

De Villiers scored an unbeaten 126 against a potent Australian pace attack in the Port Elizabeth Test on Sunday – his first Test century in three years – to show what the South Africans will miss once he decides to give up red-ball cricket for good sometime this season. The ongoing series is being seen as the last ‘big’ Test series for ABD. “My dream plan is to come back for those Test matches [against India and Australia] and that’s all I can say for now,” he had said in January 2017.

Test cricket has not been a top priority for De Villiers for a couple of seasons. A long-standing back injury plus the demands of playing all formats and various T20 leagues put an immense strain on his body. Unfortunately, he took a near two-year break from the longest format after the 2015-16 season.

De Villiers made a comeback to Test cricket last year. Since his comeback against Zimbabwe in December, the 34-year old has made 461 runs in 10 innings at an average of 57.62.

Most of the runs have been made on some of the toughest wickets seen in South Africa in recent times and against the high quality attacks of India and Australia.

In Port Elizabeth on Sunday, De Villiers got good support from the tail as South Africa took a lead of 139 after being dismissed for 382.

Seamer Vernon Philander (36) and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj (30) helped De Villiers add 84 for the eighth and 58 for the ninth wicket as South Africa pushed ahead.

Australia’s fast bowlers struggled against a rampant De Villiers who played strokes all around the wicket. He hit 20 fours and a six in a 146-ball innings. It was his 22nd Test century and sixth against Australia.

But more than the runs, it has been the manner in which he has scored them – looking completely at ease while everyone else struggles to put bat to ball – is what has stood out since his comeback. If these indeed are some of the final few Test knocks from De Villiers, we need to savour every bit of it. AB has shown Test cricket needs him more than the other way around.

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