TELFORD VICE, Centurion
AS Quinton de Kock squeezed a single into the covers in the eighth over after lunch at Centurion on Sarturday, nine Egyptian geese slunk silently across the sky high above the Hennops River End.
The staggered line of liquid squiggles would have heard the roar down below as they jerked rhythmically from east to west.
But they did not know that the clamour was in praise of a boy who had become a man. De Kock, playing in his eighth test, had scored his first century.
He banked an undefeated 129 in SA’s total of 475 – only the second time in their last nine first innings that they have surged past 400.
The presence on the same weighty scorecard of Stephen Cook’s 115 and Hashim Amla’s 109 makes this the first time since the previous Centurion test, against West Indies in December 2014 – a dozen tests ago – that three South Africans have made centuries in the same innings.
At stumps on Saturday, England were 138/2, or 337 runs away from parity in a game that is less a contest than a summery backdrop to a buzzing beer garden. How dead is this rubber.
Blessed with an uncluttered approach to just about everything, batting included, De Kock powered straight through being dropped on 28, 80, and again on 90. Having spent only four balls in the nineties, he speared the air with his bat, ripped off his helmet, and celebrated for all his worth.
And why not. He is the prodigy who came like a comet out of the uncertainty that clouded the ending of Mark Boucher’s career by a bail spinning in the damp air of a Taunton morning in July 2012. Who reeled off a hattrick of one-day centuries against India in December 2013. Who was sent on the SA A tour to India in July last year – nevermind that he was already in the middle of a test series in Bangladesh.
“I was in a bad space, and I just wasn’t scoring enough runs,” he said. “Nobody had to tell me that – I could work it out for myself. I wasn’t enjoying my cricket then, but now I am. Happy days.”
Clearly, it’s not boring being De Kock, who these days drives a hulking red Ford Mustang, complete with fat, black racing stripes.
A short roar up the road to Centurion on Saturday, he hit top gear and stayed there for most of his innings, scoring his runs at better than one a ball and hitting 17 fours and two sixes.
He drove it like he stole it. He pulled with precision and passion. He cut like a switchblade flashing in a dark alley.
He scored his first 50 off 68 balls and the next 50 off 36. He took 45 runs off the 28 deliveries Moeen Ali dared to aim in his direction. The only bowler he did not put away for four was England’s uncaped crusader, Ben Stokes.
But De Kock wouldn’t have been able to do much without the support he received in half-century stands with Temba Bavuma, Kyle Abbott and Dane Piedt – who was the picture of patience for his 19, which took him almost two hours and 104 deliveries.
That was nearly as many balls as it took James Anderson to claim his only wicket: 142. It seems AB de Villiers was onto something when he said England’s bowlers were “very experienced but some have lost pace over the years … They’re not unbeatable”.
That said, Stokes, the visitors’ answer to De Kock in his emphatically youthful interpretation of a game that fancies itself too grown up too often for its own good, deserved his haul of 4/86.
The rest of England’s bowlers had the look of stragglers in the dim dawn of a bloody good night out. Kagiso Rabada apart, SA’s attack, too, bowled like they would rather be on the beer garden side of the boundary.
But England do seem beatable. Trouble is, they’ve already won.