Quinton de Kock: in pieces or in the groove?

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

THE next few weeks will tell us whether Quinton de Kock is Humpty Dumpty or Stella; she who got her groove back in Jamaica.

Not that De Kock will be living the high life in the Caribbean or in pieces at the bottom of a great wall. Instead, he will be at the crease in India, trying to convince us that he has been put back together again.

India will remember De Kock for smashing a hattrick of centuries against them in a one-day series in SA in December 2013. He drilled 342 runs – 174 of them in fours and sixes, more than half – off 359 balls on pitches that have a reputation for snuffing out an opener’s innings more often than Julius Malema pisses off the ANC.

De Kock was as rampant as a batsman should be allowed to be. If he saw it, he hit it. And he saw it plenty.

Before that master blast De Kock had scored one century for SA in his 23 innings across all formats. But his performance in the series set the bar unreasonably high.

Here was the next AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs all in one, and left-handed to boot. Whether he would be allowed by the public and their henchmen and women (that would be us, the press) to become the first Quinton de Kock before he did anything else was the question not often asked.

But it has been answered in the 49 times De Kock has been to the crease for SA since his Indian summer: just twice has he gone to three figures.

In his six most recent innings, in Bangladesh in July, he mustered only 100 runs – a number that cruelly mocked his earlier achievements. In the last three of those efforts he failed to escape single figures, and in the last of them, in the first test in Chittagong, he was removed for only his fifth duck in 78 international innings – yorked second ball by Mustafizur Rahman.

If the notion of hitting rock bottom could be illustrated it would be the picture of De Kock’s mournful trudge back to the dressingroom as the boy wonder rudely grown up.

What to do?

The suits cop a lot of flack in these pages. And so they should: the sight of an expensive tie around a fat cat’s neck is a nuclear alarm to anyone who wields a pencil and the truth for a living.

But this time the suits and their tracksuits in the trenches got it right. Instead of subjecting De Kock to another shambling shocker in the second test in Dhaka, they parachuted him into the SA A squad in India to sort himself out.

Did he ever. In his first innings there, in a 50-over match in Chennai, he opened the batting and scored 108. Importantly, in conditions that become more difficult as the ball ages, he lasted until the 47th over. Next, in another one-dayer in Chennai, he hammered 113 off 86 balls.

Then, batting at No. 7 in a five-day game, De Kock clipped 113 off 102 balls. Also in that SA A team was Temba Bavuma, who shared the Lions’ dressingroom with De Kock until the latter’s move to the Titans this season.

“Considering the scores he made, he does seem to be back to the Quinton I know,” Bavuma said.

If that seems removed for a teammate it is because, rain or shine, De Kock does not change outwardly.

“His confidence is always there. Even though he wasn’t getting many runs in Bangladesh it was still there. But being left out of the team (for the second test in Bangladesh) could have made him want to succeed more.”

What had gone wrong?

“He didn’t have an off-season to clear his mind,” Bavuma said. “That would have helped him a lot. When you take a break, your hunger and drive to get back to the game grows so much stronger.”

This year alone De Kock has played 28 matches for SA, SA A, Easterns and the Delhi Daredevils. Even someone older and better managed like Dale Steyn is in that league with 24 games in 2015. Bavuma? Sixteen.

Humpty Dumpty, Stella and Julius Malema will not agree, but less really is more.

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