AB de Villiers reaches for a wide one

No ball too wide, no boundary too far, no shot too outré - anything was possible while AB was at the crease

Duif du Toit / © Getty Images

20 Greatest ODIs: No. 19

Berserker in pink: when AB went on a rampage

How South Africa's star batter made the fastest ODI hundred of all time

Firdose Moonda  |  

South Africa vs West Indies, Johannesburg, 2015

South Africa won by 148 runs

T rate of run-scoring in ODIs only increased a little in the 2010s over the previous decade, but the Wanderers was way ahead of the game. In three matches played between January 2012 and December 2013, South Africa racked up first-innings scores of 312 for 4, 343 for 5 and 358 for 4 at the venue, on a surface that was a run-scoring gift that just kept on giving.

In January 2015, when West Indies chose to chase in the second ODI of a five-match series they were already 1-0 down in, South Africa approached the innings in a way that put the result beyond doubt.

Hashim Amla, who was at the time ranked second on the ICC's ODI batting charts, and Rilee Rossouw, playing his 11th ODI but with a record of five ducks from his previous ten innings, combined for a first-wicket partnership of 247, South Africa's second-highest of all time. When Rossouw chipped Jerome Taylor to mid-on midway through the 39th over, South Africa's coach then, Russell Domingo, persuaded AB de Villiers to promote himself to No. 3.

"Even though he was at the top of his game at that stage. He was very reluctant to bat on that particular day because he felt David Miller would be a better option to face Sulieman Benn's last over. He had to be convinced to go and bat," said Domingo. "He said he just wasn't feeling it, and he was very much a feel guy."

If de Villiers wasn't in the mood, that quickly changed. He hit the first ball he faced, a slower one from Jerome Taylor, past mid-on for four. "Once he hit that shot, he started feeling it straight away," Domingo said.

It happened that Benn wasn't called on to bowl again and de Villiers took on the fast bowlers in an exhibition of some of the most inventive use of the crease seen in cricket, and outrageous strokeplay. In the next over, he took 21 runs off Andre Russell, as he moved to the leg side to loft him over mid-off, then stepped outside off to pull him over square leg, then made room to hit through the off side and got down on one knee to scoop. South Africa entered the last ten overs on 276 for 1, with 350-plus in sight.

De Villiers had his eye on many more.

West Indies captain Jason Holder manages a smile when talking to the perpetrator after the game

West Indies captain Jason Holder manages a smile when talking to the perpetrator after the game © Gallo Images

He stepped across his stumps to send Jason Holder over the short leg-side boundary and into the eastern stand for six in an over that cost 24, and brought up his fifty off 16 balls - it remains the record for the fastest half-century in this format. Then he hooked Taylor from close to his body to top-edge for six, and reverse-paddled a low full toss for four. Although most of his shots were about placement, his hundred came up with a slog sweep that went for six off the 31st ball he faced. That made it cricket's fastest ODI century, beating Corey Anderson's 36-ball hundred against West Indies less than a year before, and eclipsing Anderson by some distance to also hold the record for the best strike rate in an ODI innings: 338.63.

De Villiers finished that over with two sixes, to set a record for the most maximums by a South African in an ODI. He went on to hit five more and equal the world record, which was broken by Eoin Morgan at the 2019 World Cup. De Villiers also struck nine fours, which meant that 132 of his runs were scored in boundaries. He ran five twos and seven singles to get to 149.

Amla crossed 150 in that innings but only faced 30 balls after de Villiers got to the crease (and scored 33 runs off them), and so is remembered in a supporting role. But he and Rossouw also made history that day - this match remains the only instance of three hundreds in the top three in an ODI.

That it came with less than a month to go before the World Cup did wonders for South Africa's confidence and they entered the tournament believing it was theirs to win. They even topped 400 when they faced West Indies in the group stage and de Villiers once again dazzled with 162, though in the end it wasn't enough to break their run of bad fortune at major tournaments.

South Africa have reason to remember the "AB ODI." It brought them their highest total in ODI cricket, and the second highest in the format's history at the time, on a carnival-style day when they dressed in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer.

"It was nearly nine years ago, and there have been some great innings and some amazing games and some small fields to bat on, yet nobody has beaten that," Domingo said. "And I think it will be a difficult record for anyone to beat."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket