It is South Africa’s highest ever ODI total, improving on their famous 438 to beat Australia at the same venue in 2005/06, but they missed a golden opportunity to reclaim the world record, falling just four runs short of Sri Lanka’s 443 for nine against the Netherlands in Amstelveen in 2006.
South Africa’s bowlers were then willing to buy wickets as they reduced the West Indies to 148 for four after 25 overs in the visitors’ run-chase.
Apart from a top-class spell of four overs for six runs by Dale Steyn and a good comeback by Morne Morkel, South Africa’s bowlers were all expensive as the West Indian batsmen briefly prospered on a flat pitch.
Morkel made a messy start to the innings, opening with a leg-side delivery that was helped to the fine leg boundary by Dwayne Smith, followed by a wide way outside the off stump.
The tall fast bowler then induced a catch at third man by Smith, but a television replay showed that Morkel had bowled a no-ball, with Chris Gayle pulling a four off the free hit.
Gayle rushed to 19 off 13 balls, whacking two fours and a six, before sending a pull off Morkel steepling towards the midwicket boundary, Farhaan Behardien running in and taking a great catch.
Leon Johnson has struggled in this ODI series, making a six-ball duck in Durban and battling to one run off 15 deliveries at the Wanderers before being trapped lbw by Vernon Philander.
Dwayne Smith has flattered to deceive on tour, but on Sunday he was really starting to look threatening as he scored 64 off 65 balls, with nine fours and a six, before lofting Behardien straight back over his head, but failing to clear JP Duminy, who ran from long-off to take a good catch.
Philander then claimed his second wicket when a leaping Behardien intercepted Marlon Samuels’ lofted drive at extra cover, the experienced batsman falling for 40 off 48 balls.
Philander has been bowled out but has been expensive, conceding 69 runs in his 10 overs.
Denesh Ramdin, on 12 not out, has been joined at the crease by rookie Jonathan Carter, with the West Indies needing an unlikely 292 runs from 25 overs to win.
South Africa’s massive innings had been set up by a record opening stand of 247 between Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw, but that was overshadowed in scarcely believable fashion by De Villiers, who blazed to 50 in 16 balls (also a world record) and to his hundred off just 31 deliveries. That smashed New Zealander Corey Anderson’s previous record of 36 balls, also against the West Indies, in Queenstown a year ago.
De Villiers fell in the final over for 149 off just 44 balls, showcasing his enormous natural ability with nine fours and 16 sixes – equalling the world record of Rohit Sharma for India against Australia in Bangalore in 2013. Having produced the most outrageous innings in ODI history, it would have been most apt if De Villiers had taken South Africa to the world record score, but he drove the fourth ball of Andre Russell’s excellent final over to deep cover to end the carnage, with Amla missing the last two deliveries of the innings.
Through the years since his international debut in 2004, De Villiers has honed his natural talent, become the master of his game and at reading match situations. At the Wanderers on Sunday he just came out and had fun, toying with the West Indian bowlers. Most of his strokes were seemingly premeditated and sent all over the ground, no matter where the ball was delivered. The South African captain had a particular fondness for the scoop back over his shoulder, but also hit the ball sweetly down the ground, finding or going over the boundary off 25 of the 44 deliveries he faced.
After winning the toss and sending the Proteas in to bat in cloudy, breezy, cool conditions, the West Indians had no idea of the furnace that was about to envelop them.
Amla was quickly away but Rossouw, after making his fifth duck in 10 innings in the previous ODI in Durban, started scratchily, often miscuing his attacking strokes.
But he put his lean times and early struggles behind him, grinding his way back into form and then enjoying rich pickings as he notched his first international century off just 102 balls, collecting eight fours and a six along the way.
Amla cruised to his century two deliveries later, off 103 balls, and the West Indies were already in a daze as the opening duo added 247 off 235 balls, the sixth highest first-wicket partnership in ODI history and South Africa’s best.
Rossouw began the 39th over with two brilliant boundaries off Jerome Taylor, over midwicket and straight back over the bowler’s head, but then chipped the third delivery to mid-off to fall for a brilliant 128 off 115 balls that will go a long way to ensuring he feels at home in international cricket.
But Amla batted on through the innings, sensibly feeding De Villiers the strike, as he finished with a splendid 153 not out off 142 balls, with 14 fours.
It became the first time three centuries have been scored in an ODI innings, as De Villiers rained down blows on the West Indian bowlers and hapless fielders. He and Amla added a magnificent 192 for the second wicket off an incredible 68 balls, beating that memorable partnership of 187 between Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs in the 438 game as the ground record.
It became embarrassing and it all seemed just too easy for international sport.
But that is what genius can do and De Villiers can certainly be placed at the top of that list.