TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SOUTH Africa’s squad touched down in Port Elizabeth on Thursday to the happy news that the International Cricket Council (ICC) had named Quinton de Kock their “ODI Cricketer of the Year”.
Between the relevant dates – September 14, 2015 and September 20 this year – De Kock played 16 one-day internationals and drilled 793 runs, among them four centuries.
“Everyone’s very proud of him,” South Africa’s coach, Russell Domingo, told reporters. “He’s had an outstanding 12 months.
“He was left out of the test side when we were in Bangladesh (las July) and he showed some real, good character to come back.”
De Kock is the only South African besides AB de Villiers to win the award, a fact that was not lost on the wicketkeeper-batsman.
“This award obviously rewards consistent performances at the top level and I’m happy to have done well for my team over this period,” an ICC release quoted De Kock as saying.
“To join a select group of players that include my senior AB de Villiers makes this a special moment, one that I’ll cherish for long.”
De Villiers is currently out with an elbow injury, but De Kock will be central to proceedings when the test series against Sri Lanka starts at St George’s Park on Monday.
Domingo was focused on ensuring his team maintained the momentum they have built up in winning test series against New Zealand and Australia in less than five months.
“We’ve been playing some good test cricket of late, and to continue that form and continue the brand of cricket we want to play is of paramount importance for us,” he said.
Pitches tend to be slower than the South African norm at St George’s Park but that hasn’t stopped the home side from winning two and drawing the other of their last three tests there.
“The guys love coming to Port Elizabeth,” Domingo said. “We feel that the wicket suits us to a degree.
“The ball tends to reverse swing here because of the abrasiveness of the wicket, which helps our seamers.
“We know if there is a bit of easterly (wind) or a bit of overhead conditions, we are able to exploit that as well with our seamers.
“It’s never been a very fast wicket. It’s a wicket where you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to grind out runs.
“That’s the strength of a cricket side – our levels of patience and being able to withstand those types of periods.
“But over and above that the crowd support here is phenomenal. There’s great nets and great facilities.
“The first test (in South Africa) was played here in 1889 so there’s a lot of history, culture and tradition that goes with this venue.”
Not that Domingo was advocating that the Sri Lankans, who grew up on slow, turning pitches, should feel entirely at home at St George’s Park.
“I suppose when you’re playing sub-continent sides and you’re playing at home you’d hope that you have wickets that offer the seamers a bit more assistance,” he said.
“The last thing we want is to get them to South Africa and they have wickets that spin from day one or two.”
Which is a problem the South Africans have had to deal with …
“We’ve been frustrated; sometimes we’ve felt our wickets at home suit the opposition more than they suit us,” Domingo said.
“We’ve played on some wickets in Durban that have spun square for sub-continent sides. Which leaves you thinking, ‘Jeez, that’s not what we’re looking for’.”
What with Port Elizabeth last having experienced decent rain on December 9, Domingo knew that was a possibility.
“Particularly this time, with the heat and the wind – it’s a dry time in South Africa – wickets don’t always offer what we’re looking for,” he said. “Which brings the opposition into the game a lot more.”
South Africa tumbled from No. 1 to No. 7 in the test rankings last season, when they lost five of eight tests. They are currently fourth and seem set to climb further.
But Domingo wasn’t about to be sidetracked be all that.
“You lose a series and you drop to seven,” he said. “You win a series and you go up to four.
“Any of the top five sides can beat anybody on the day.”
That might serve as motivation for the Lankans: they’re at No. 7.