4. AB de Villiers
The stats | M: 251 | NO: 45 | Runs: 6649 | HS: 133no | Ave: 35.36 | SR: 147.91 | 100s: 3 | 50s: 45
The story: Fear. Fear is what bowlers feel when they stand at the top of their mark and see AB de Villiers on strike. A current Australian quick said it felt as though de Villiers would arrive at the crease already ‘in’. Another cursed with joy when told the Proteas master blaster had retired from international cricket. It’s fear that separates de Villiers and pretty much every other modern-day batsman, besides perhaps the two ahead of him on this list. As one of one-day cricket’s most destructive batsmen ever (and quite possibly the best), his white-ball pyrotechnics transferred seamlessly into T20 cricket. While he didn’t dominate at the international level as much as he could have (zero hundreds and 10 half-centuries in 78 matches), it was playing franchise cricket, in particular the Indian Premier League, where his genius was on display. Alongside Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and Shane Watson at Royal Challengers Bangalore from 2016-17, de Villiers completed the most action-packed T20 top-order ever assembled. And in tandem with Kohli, the pair compiled the two highest T20 partnerships of all time almost exactly a year apart, a ridiculous unbeaten 215 in 2015 that was bettered by a stand of 229 off 97 balls 12 months on. Now done with international duties, de Villiers can spread his talent to all corners of the T20 globe, which hopefully means the KFC Big Bash League next summer.
The signature move: Where to start? Front foot, back foot, against spin or pace, facing the new ball or the old? There is nowhere on a cricket field de Villiers can’t hit. But if we had to pick one, his ability to paddle sweep express fast bowling is outrageous. One example that sticks out was in the IPL against his Proteas teammate Dale Steyn. Having already hit two sixes and four off Steyn’s over, de Villiers jumped across his crease to expose all three stumps, planted his right knee on the turf and lapped Steyn’s bullet over fine-leg for an enormous six. Even Steyn had a smile on his face after watching the ball sail over the rope. Absurd.
The match: As part of that 229-run partnership with Kohli in 2016, de Villiers finished with an incredible 129 from just 52 deliveries against the now-defunct Gujarat Lions. De Villiers hit 10 fours and 12 sixes in that innings to walk off M Chinnaswamy Stadium with a whopping strike rate of 248.07. Earlier this year he made 90 from 39 balls for RCB against Ricky Ponting’s Delhi Daredevils, a stunning knock that had his skipper Kohli saying after the match: “AB just keeps taking the game away and that’s why there’s no doubt why he’s the best player in the world.” Hard to argue.
3. Virat Kohli
The stats | M: 242 | NO: 43 | Runs: 7625 | HS: 113 | Ave: 40.99 | SR: 133.56 | 100s: 4 | 50s: 56
The story: Kohli's game was originally more suited to 50 overs than the crash and bash of T20 cricket, but such is the drive of the India captain – and his thirst to be the best – that he has evolved to become the ultimate three-format batsman. The player of the tournament in the last two ICC World T20s, Kohli is also an IPL record-breaker; his ridiculous 2016 campaign included a record-breaking four hundreds and 973 runs. Seemingly impossible to set fields to, the wristy right-hander possesses an incredible ability to manoeuvre the ball into the gaps, while there is no better player when it comes to negotiating a run chase. For India, his record is extraordinary: he is the third-leading run-scorer in T20I history while his average of 50.84 is head and shoulders above the top 25 batsmen on that list (the next best is 37.95). Perhaps the only thing missing is silverware – Kohli is yet to win an IPL with Royal Challengers Bangalore, nor a World T20 title with India.
The signature move: There were a few we could have picked here but the Kohli cover drive to spin bowling is a thing of beauty. Crouched at the crease, eyes fiercely focused on the path of the ball, he steps, sometimes skips, forward and out, and then with a sudden break of the wrist, the ball is sent hurtling along the carpet, seemingly picking up speed as it goes, invariably missing the fielders as it makes its way to the rope.
The performance: World T20, 2016. Australia needed to beat India to qualify for the knockout stages. They made 160 and looked on song for a shock result when the tournament hosts slipped to 3-49 in the eighth over. At that point, Indian needed 112 from 74 balls, with Yuvraj Singh injured at one end. But at the other was Kohli, the master of the run chase. Typically, he timed his run to perfection, upping the ante in the closing stages with a flurry of stunning boundaries either side of the wicket and getting his team home with five balls to spare. His 82no from 51 balls was a remarkable exhibition of T20 batting – one of the great knocks in the format's history – and better still from an Indian perspective, it dumped Australia out of the tournament.
Cricket.com.au's T20 Superstars countdown - a tribute to the best players to have graced the sport's shortest format - will conclude on Thursday, June 14.