I know this will be viewed as crazy in many ways but AB de Villiers is the best batsman there has ever been. Better than Tendulkar and Lara. Better than Viv and Sobers. Better than Gavaskar. Better, even, than Bradman. That is my position and I am sticking with it.
De Villiers is history's best batsman in the same way that Usain Bolt is the history's best sprinter.
As a general rule, sporting performances have improved with time. Modern living and improvements in training methods and technology has allowed today's athletes to reach levels in their sports of which their predecessors could not even dream.
In 1936, Jesse Owens sprinted to the 100M world record in Chicago in 10.2 seconds. Today, the record stands at 9.58, placed there by Bolt at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin, Germany. This means that Bolt would have finished all of 21 feet ahead of Owens had they competed in the same race.
The rise of the Twenty20 cricket has modified batting innovations that have transformed the game. The Dilscoop, the reverse-sweep, the switch-hit, shots mostly absent from the game two decades ago, are today played in most limited overs games and are showing up more and more in tests.
Cricket has changed.
A little while ago, on January 18th, de Villiers battered the West Indies in a barely believable display of batting that saw him score the fastest 50 and fastest century in ODIs on his way to 149. During the 19th match of ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 at the Sydney Cricket Ground South Africa's captain repeated the knock, once again totally devastating the West Indies bowling for 162 runs off just 66 deliveries. Now, the West Indies does not posses the strongest bowling attack around, but I daresay there is no bowling that would've contained de Villiers in that kind of mood. At his best he is unstoppable and I doubt there is a bowler able to keep him quiet for any extended period.
Bowl wherever you like or at whatever pace; when on song he will still find a way to take full toll. His 360 degrees scoring range means there is no area of the ground that the fielding team can safely neglect, though the ease with which he clears the boundary regularly renders fielders redundant.
No batsman playing today, indeed none that has ever played, is capable of the outrageousness that he showed against the West Indies, and had shown before against other opponents.
Now, I'm not saying de Villiers is more gifted player than the eminent names previously mentioned. Who knows, were they playing today some of them might have been even better. One quality all great performers possess is the ability to adapt. The great players of yesterday would have been great today.
Through aptitude and practice de Villiers has become a past master of contemporary batting the past master. He destroys attacks as a matter of course, and does it with a degree of artistry and dedication that few batsmen can summon. Though he cruelly dismantles opponents, he goes about his business with a hint of violence; and the destruction he wreaks is done without mercy. Perhaps you could think of him as the man who strips you of all your money and all your clothing, yet sends you on your way with a kind word.
AB de Villiers is a legend and worryingly it seems as though he is just getting started.