De Villiers the reluctant long-former; Rohit the giant – Cricket talking points

Osman Samiuddin surveys international cricket and sees in AB de Villiers a sign of the game's inequality, and gives a nod to big-bashing Rohit Sharma.

AB de Villiers of South Africa talks to the media last week before they began the third Test against England. Julian Finney / Getty Images / January 13, 2016
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AB de Villiers and Test cricket

Though he eventually committed to long-form cricket after South Africa's loss in Johannesburg, AB de Villiers' earlier prevarications set off the by-now regular bouts of cricket soul-searching.

His refusal to commit was, it was widely thought, a result of the Big Three coup last year and the resulting widening disparity between cricket’s haves and have-nots. There is more than a kernel of truth in that, of course.

But not entirely. The age of the freelance cricketer, or the early Test retirement, pre-dates what the Big Three did last year. The implications of that financial restructuring, in particular, have not become clear yet.

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But the inequality between cricket nations has been a fact for years and it has been growing; the Big Three was only a formalisation of the status quo. Long before that, when the Indian Premier League began, the kind of fears raised by De Villiers and the idea of freelance cricketers had already been flagged.

Rohit Sharma, ODI giant

Two one-day internationals, two hundreds, two losses, such has been the lot of Rohit Sharma this last week. In fact, that has been a pattern: Rohit scores an ODI hundred, India lose. Of the last five times he has hit a hundred, India have won only one game.

But of more significance are the scores. Since his return to the Indian ODI side in 2013, these are the hundreds he has hit: 141*, 209, 264, 138, 137, 150, 171*, 124. In other words, we are talking skyscrapers here. This is what is setting him apart in world cricket at the moment, that when he does get a hundred, he makes sure it is a very big one.

It is a remarkable trait, because ODI batting greatness has rarely been judged by how big a batsman goes. Nobody has gone as big as regularly as Rohit has and it is testament to a rare skill. All he needs is for India to capitalise and maybe to translate that form into Tests.

Match-fixing, still

The news this week that one-time South Africa international Gulam Bodi has been charged by Cricket South Africa (CSA) for “contriving to fix, or otherwise improperly influence aspects of” their Twenty20 tournament is a reminder of the continuing dangers of corruption.

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South Africa has legislation that deals with specific crimes such as match-fixing so there remains a possibility that Bodi faces criminal prosecution. Reports suggest that two other former internationals may also be involved.

CSA’s anti-corruption unit did its job: They had issued a release in November warning players to be alert of approaches. Then, in conjunction with the International Cricket Council, they identified Bodi and started building a case against him. So though it is heartening to note that a board, with assistance, has taken action, there remains the fear that the more cricket there is, the more difficult it is to stop those who wish to corrupt it.

Last week

Australia v India – 1st ODI, Australia won by five wickets; 2nd ODI, Australia won by seven wickets, 3rd ODI, Australia won by three wickets

New Zealand v Pakistan – 1st T20, Pakistan won by 17 runs; 2nd T20, New Zealand won by 10 wickets

South Africa v England – 3rd Test, England won by seven wickets (England lead series 2-0)

Bangladesh v Zimbabwe – 1st T20, Bangladesh won by four wickets; 2nd T20, Bangladesh won by 42 runs

Player of the week

Joe Root – Root's hundred in the first innings at Johannesburg was an innings for the ages. If the attack was not the toughest South Africa could have put out, it was still not an easy one. And conditions helped them greatly. Root batted as if he was in Abu Dhabi though, flowing, confident and untroubled.

This week

Australia v India – 4th ODI, Wednesday; 5th ODI, Saturday

New Zealand v Pakistan – 3rd T20, Friday

South Africa v England – 4th Test, from Friday

Bangladesh v Zimbabwe – 3rd T20, Wednesday; 4th T20, Friday

Players to watch

Dale Steyn – Fingers crossed, it will be Dale Steyn, not to see how he bowls but just to see him back in action. His absence through much of South Africa's last two series is a major reason why they have floundered. Even with him they may have lost both series but surely they would have done so with more of a snarl.

Stat of the week

224.31 – Rohit Sharma's strike rate in an ODI innings between the 43rd and 50th overs since January 2013. He is renowned for batting big and deep, but his burst at the death is phenomenal: he sits atop the list, ahead even of the likes of AB de Villiers.

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