The South African strokemaker said he was determined to show he is still cut out for Test cricket following his sensational century on Sunday’s day three against Australia in Port Elizabeth.
Not since January 2015 had AB de Villiers scored a Test century but he ended the long wait in style in Port Elizabeth – in the view of his former captain Graeme Smith, his innings of 126 not out from 146 balls was “one of the great Test innings”.
His performance could well prove to be a match-winning one, as the 34-year-old helped South Africa recover from 183/6 to post 382 all out – a first-innings lead of 139 – before Australia were reduced to 180/5 in reply, just 41 runs ahead.
Having decided to take a break from the longest format in 2016, only returning in December 2017, de Villiers admitted he was determined to prove that he was still capable of producing match-defining performances in Test cricket.
“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. “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.
“It was right up there with the best feeling ever,” he said of reaching three figures. “I was very nervous in the nineties. 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.”
David Saker, Australia’s bowling coach, paid tribute to de Villiers’ stunning performance but said all is not lost for the visitors, despite Kagiso Rabada’s key late dismissal of Usman Khawaja (75).
“He is one of the best players in the world, if not the best,” said Saker of de Villiers. “It seemed like he was batting on a different wicket to everyone else.
“We still need another 60 or 70 runs to put pressure on South Africa. We’re still comfortable that we can get a total that can be defended.”
De Villiers also had words of caution and support for Rabada, who took his wicket tally for the match to eight by dismissing David Warner, Shaun Marsh and Khawaja, but is a doubt for the rest of the series as he awaits the result of a disciplinary hearing with ICC match referee Jeff Crowe.
The South African quick has been charged with a level-two offence for making physical contact with Steve Smith while celebrating the wicket of Australia’s captain in the first innings.
“He’s crossed the line a few times and I think he’s regretting that,” said de Villiers. “I think it’s up to some of our senior guys to help him. It’s important for some of the players to get around him before he gets close to a batter where he can tell him, ‘I just got you out’.
“He’s got to be smarter and he knows that. There was a lot of emotions from the last Test going into this one. As a fast bowler, you want to prove things to people and show everyone that you belong on this stage. Like I said, in a way, I understand.
“Dale [Steyn], when he’s on fire you don’t know what’s going on in his mind, you just see eyes and all sorts of stuff. Luckily for him [Steyn], he’s never crossed that line because we get to him. So we will try to get to KG before he does the damage.”