De Kock evolving into Test role after initial struggles

The Proteas keeper-batsman has the highest average and runs in the side's batting line-up since December 2018 despite having to bat with the tail.

De Kock now understands how to maximise returns while batting with the lower order.   -  AP

South Africa's Quinton De Kock is only 26 and has played in 193 internationals across formats since his debut in 2012. His game may not be given to flashy strokeplay. For instance, if Virat Kohli's batting is fine-dining and Chris Gayle's is fast food then De Kock is like an adult developing a taste for vegetables after a youth spent avoiding them.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, De Kock racked up three successive ODI centuries against India at home building a healthy reputation ahead of the 2015 World Cup. But an ankle injury on the morning of the first Test against the West Indies threatened to derail his hopes of featuring in the big-ticket event.

He recovered in time but suffered a loss of form through the tournament evident in his modest return of 145 runs from eight innings. The lean spell caught up with him in Tests as well, where he had a mediocre 2017 with the bat before the rub of green returned. "I have fallen short in my early years of playing Test cricket," admits De Kock.

READ | De Kock: Captaincy a new stepping stone

"I think coming to batting, it's not that I don't change much when I switch between formats, I just try to keep a good mindset whether it is ODIs, T20s or Tests - if you bowl well to me, you will get my respect but I'll try and put as much pressure on you as possible. 

De Kock scored his first Test hundred in over two years against Pakistan in January, 2019. Photo: Getty Images

 

"Everyone's looking to score runs and score them quickly in every format, it's just the general nature of the game at the moment. Having said that, Test cricket's a little suited to the bowlers so I've to respect them a little more," he says.    

De Kock doesn't think T20 cricket has affected his Test batting at all. "If anything it makes me a better player by enhancing my awareness," he says. "I haven't played as much T20 cricket as I wanted to for the Proteas... in time we have been given breaks because of our long seasons."

Since December 2018, the keeper-batsman averages an impressive 59.12 and tops the tally in five-day cricket with 473 runs from five matches. His average is eight higher than his next best team-mate and skipper, Faf du Plessis (51). It's not so much about how many runs he scores but how and when he scores them.

South Africa's new team director Enoch Nkwe has backed de Kock to be a big part of the team's future. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

In the two-match Test series versus Sri Lanka earlier this year, with South Africa often found reeling, De Kock batting at No 6, mixed caution with mindful aggression to shepherd the lower order. Be it the 47 runs he put together with Keshav Maharaj at Kingsmead or the 59-run stand with Kagiso Rabada at Port Elizabeth, he appeared to have achieved mastery over the art of batting with the tail.

READ | De Kock wants South Africa to 'prepare for the worst'

"It is a very tough role [batting with tail] to play for a No. 6 or No. 7 batsman in Test cricket but it can be rewarding at times if you understand what you are doing. 

"But lately, I've understood how to play with the tail by watching other guys. I've learnt that there's time to score a lot of runs while batting with the lower-order batsmen," he says.

South Africa's new team director Enoch Nkwe had stressed ahead of the three-match T20I series, which the visitor drew 1-1, that the focus is on building a team for the future, and the World T20 in Australia next year is the immediate target.

Under de Kock's captaincy, Proteas levelled the three-match T20I series 1-1. Photo: K. Murali Kumar   -  K. Murali Kumar

"It's also an opportunity to start building for the future. We know where Faf stands, as a captain and as a player. He's done great things for South African cricket. We also need to look at what the future looks like. We believe in Quinton, who's going to be leading the team in this series." Nkwe had said.

However, de Kock is not thinking too much about captaincy at the moment. "I am only the T20 captain until Faf gets back, then I am sure he will take over again," he says. And while the southpaw is unsure what Cricket South Africa's plans are, he is ready to take up the challenge if it comes his way.

"If they would like me to do it then so be it. Temba (Bavuma) is next in line to be Test captain. That said, whoever is appointed skipper, the senior group within the team will back him going forward."