I just saw a run chase destroying over in which AB de Villiers hit Dale Steyn for 23 runs. I am almost certain that this over will go into IPL folklore as one of the top exhibits of a "contest" between two high quality cricketers.
A contest is surely something where each contestant has something to lose, and has a choice of ways in which a win can be pursued. For the most part in the IPL, batsmen have nothing to lose. For AB de Villiers, with 39 required off 3 overs, the choice was clear. He had to go after Steyn.
As it happened, he guessed right every time. Steyn got one yorker right, and even that one went for 2 runs square of the leg side. de Villiers is a gifted batsman. He is probably the fastest batsman in the world right now. This was once said of Viv Richards. This speed of eye allows the batsman to have just that little bit more time in which to play a stroke.
The 23 run over was a perfect storm for Steyn. AB connected everything off the middle of the bat, Steyn got one yorker right, and two yorkers wrong. I'm not even sure he was trying to bowl a yorker. It seemed to me that he was just trying to keep it full and straight. In the first instance he bowled a very good yorker that cramped de Villiers for room. AB's response was to back away to leg the next ball. He deposited the half volley outside leg stump clean over extra cover - an extraordinary shot, that could only have worked with the most perfect timing. Steyn bowled the slower one before this, and AB picked it immediately. It was slogged between mid-on and mid-wicket (both on the boundary) for a four. The fifth ball of the over was a length ball on off stump, and AB scooped it over fine leg for four.
This will be billed as a de Villiers v Steyn clash. Its not. It is best seen as a de Villiers v Run Rate clash, in which the bowler was capable of bowling very fast, and in which, de Villiers guessed right every time, and whats more, had a brilliant stroke at the ready in each case.
It is no surprise to me that a top quality batsman, if he is presented with a situation in which he has to score quick runs, will pull it off from time to time. Look at Virat Kohli's recent effort at Hobart. It was a similar situation in an ODI game. Kohli had nothing to lose - the run rate requirement left him with no choice but to g for it.
I feel bad for Dale Steyn. People will say that he's not a very good "death" bowler. This is a meaningless point made solely on the basis of results. Short bowlers rarely make very good "death" bowlers, or even limited overs bowlers in general. Malcolm Marshall had a similarly modest ODI record to Steyn's (compared to his Test record).
Even if Steyn had dismissed de Villiers today, it would have been the run rate which dismissed him, not Steyn's virtuosity, because de Villiers would not have been dismissed while protecting his wicket.
This Steyn v de Villiers contest was like a shooting match between two duelers in which one of them was only allowed to fire blanks. The only way this dueler could win is if his opponent shot himself in the foot, or was forced by something else to do so.
It was some hitting though. For a couple of overs.