De Villiers flayed the West Indies for 149 runs off just 44 balls to take the Proteas to 439 for two, South Africa’s highest ever ODI total, improving on their famous 438 to beat Australia at the same venue in 2005/06, but they missed a golden opportunity to reclaim the world record, falling just four runs short of Sri Lanka’s 443 for nine against the Netherlands in Amstelveen in 2006.
The West Indies could only muster 291 for seven in their 50 overs, thanks to half-centuries from Dwayne Smith (64) and Denesh Ramdin (57) and a pair of 40s from Marlon Samuels and Jonathan Carter.
Although the visitors were often ahead of the South African total at a comparative stage of their innings, reaching 148 in 25 overs compared to the Proteas’ 142, they lost wickets at regular intervals.
And Dale Steyn was their biggest obstacle, just 19 runs coming from his first eight overs as the run-rate grew out of reach in the second half of the innings.
Steyn received good support from Morne Morkel, with two for 43 from his 10 overs.
Opener Smith was the biggest threat to the South Africans – and the biggest contributor amongst the West Indian batsmen towards the fundraising for the fight against cancer – with nine fours and a six in his run-a-ball 64, and Samuels was also looking promising before he did not quite get enough elevation on a lofted drive off Vernon Philander and a leaping Farhaan Behardien took the catch at extra cover.
Ramdin and Carter added 83 off 73 balls for the fifth wicket before Steyn, bowling with tremendous pace and accuracy had Carter caught at mid-on.
Carter impressed in just his second ODI innings with three fours and a six.
Morkel made a messy start to the innings, opening with a leg-side delivery that was helped to the fine leg boundary by Smith, followed by a wide way outside the off stump.
The tall fast bowler then induced a catch at third man by Smith, but a television replay showed that Morkel had bowled a no-ball, with Chris Gayle pulling a four off the free hit.
Gayle rushed to 19 off 13 balls, whacking two fours and a six, before sending a pull off Morkel steepling towards the midwicket boundary, Behardien running in and taking a great catch.
Leon Johnson has struggled in this ODI series, making a six-ball duck in Durban and battling to one run off 15 deliveries at the Wanderers before being trapped lbw by Philander.
Smith has flattered to deceive on tour, but on Sunday he was really starting to look threatening before lofting Behardien straight back over his head, but failing to clear JP Duminy, who ran from long-off to take a good catch.
Philander claimed two wickets but was expensive, conceding 69 runs in his 10 overs.
South Africa’s massive innings had been set up by a record opening stand of 247 between Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw, but that was overshadowed in scarcely believable fashion by De Villiers, who blazed to 50 in 16 balls (also a world record) and to his hundred off just 31 deliveries. That smashed New Zealander Corey Anderson’s previous record of 36 balls, also against the West Indies, in Queenstown a year ago.
De Villiers fell in the final over for 149 off just 44 balls, showcasing his enormous natural ability with nine fours and 16 sixes – equalling the world record of Rohit Sharma for India against Australia in Bangalore in 2013. Having produced the most outrageous innings in ODI history, it would have been most apt if De Villiers had taken South Africa to the world record score, but he drove the fourth ball of Andre Russell’s excellent final over to deep cover to end the carnage, with Amla missing the last two deliveries of the innings.
Through the years since his international debut in 2004, De Villiers has honed his natural talent, become the master of his game and at reading match situations. At the Wanderers on Sunday he just came out and had fun, toying with the West Indian bowlers. Most of his strokes were seemingly premeditated and sent all over the ground, no matter where the ball was delivered. The South African captain had a particular fondness for the scoop back over his shoulder, but also hit the ball sweetly down the ground, finding or going over the boundary off 25 of the 44 deliveries he faced.
After winning the toss and sending the Proteas in to bat in cloudy, breezy, cool conditions, the West Indians had no idea of the furnace that was about to envelop them.
Amla was quickly away but Rossouw, after making his fifth duck in 10 innings in the previous ODI in Durban, started scratchily, often miscuing his attacking strokes.
But he put his lean times and early struggles behind him, grinding his way back into form and then enjoying rich pickings as he notched his first international century off just 102 balls, collecting eight fours and a six along the way.
Amla cruised to his century two deliveries later, off 103 balls, and the West Indies were already in a daze as the opening duo added 247 off 235 balls, the sixth highest first-wicket partnership in ODI history and South Africa’s best.
Rossouw began the 39th over with two brilliant boundaries off Jerome Taylor, over midwicket and straight back over the bowler’s head, but then chipped the third delivery to mid-off to fall for a brilliant 128 off 115 balls that will go a long way to ensuring he feels at home in international cricket.
But Amla batted on through the innings, sensibly feeding De Villiers the strike, as he finished with a splendid 153 not out off 142 balls, with 14 fours.
It became the first time three centuries have been scored in an ODI innings, as De Villiers rained down blows on the West Indian bowlers and hapless fielders. He and Amla added a magnificent 192 for the second wicket off an incredible 68 balls, beating that memorable partnership of 187 between Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs in the 438 game as the ground record.
It became embarrassing and it all seemed just too easy for international sport.
But that is what genius can do and De Villiers can certainly be placed at the top of that list.
Quotes from the team
AB de Villiers batted as if he had a prior engagement in blazing his way to the fastest ODI century ever at the Wanderers on Sunday, and then said it was just one of those days when everything clicked.
De Villiers smashed 149 off 44 balls, reaching three figures off just 31 deliveries, in the most outrageous innings every played in ODI cricket, but it did ring true when he said it had not been his best ball-striking day.
“I have hit the ball better before, believe it or not, but it was just one of those exceptional days when you get a couple out of the middle of the bat and then everything just clicks. Today it just happened for me.
“On this ground, if you’re in decent form, you swing hard and have a bit of luck, then amazing things can happen and it’s very difficult to stop you, like Ricky Ponting and Herschelle Gibbs have shown in the past,” De Villiers said.
It was a top-class display of innovation and imagination from De Villiers, who fashioned 25 boundaries – nine fours and 16 sixes – from the 44 balls he faced, often playing strokes that bordered on the impossible.
“In today’s cricket you have to read the game and most batsmen do premeditate what they’re going to do. You can’t just let the bowlers bowl at you, you have to put them under pressure, so there were definitely quite a few premeditated shots by me today,” De Villiers admitted, making his superhuman efforts sound almost mundane.
It sounded even more corny when De Villiers said he had practically begged coach Russell Domingo to let David Miller go in ahead of him because he felt the left-hander could have added “even more fuel” to the brilliant opening stand of 247 in 38.3 overs between Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw.
While never considering themselves dead certs for the World Cup, De Villiers said Sunday’s overwhelming victory over the West Indies was a step in the right direction for the team as they look to go to Australasia believing they are the best team there.
“There’s no doubt a performance like this is a tremendous help for the confidence, which is 80 to 90% of sport. I believe we’re getting better, getting confidence is what this series is all about, and we want to go to the World Cup believing we are the best. No team has ever won the World Cup not thinking they’re the best team in the tournament,” South Africa’s ODI captain said.
Denesh Ramdin has been around the international circuit for nearly 10 years and he described De Villiers’ knock as one of the best he had ever seen; the rookie Rossouw said the number one ranked ODI batsman was playing the game at a different level to everyone else.
“I was just speechless watching AB, it was out of this world. He’s a freak, on a level of his own. It’s just not right scoring a hundred off 31 balls!
“Those who didn’t watch the innings really missed out because seeing is believing,” Rossouw said of his skipper’s extraordinary exploits.