November 25, 2013

South Africa's wild young thing

Quinton de Kock forced himself into the national team with an array of breathtaking innings. Now he knows he must think about his game

There's a time during every over when the person batting with Quinton de Kock has a particular task to perform. That person, usually a man much older and more experienced his partner, has to pick his moment - after the first ball has been bowled, midway through the over, when de Kock has had a swish at a ball, has taken a risky run, or has been beaten - to go and say to him: "Take it easy, just take it easy."

De Kock can see the words coming. He can hear the words, laced with the disciplinary tone of a schoolteacher, before the sound hits his eardrum, and his response comes out robotically. "Cool, cool, I'm cool," he repeats, just like he does in the middle.

His boyish face breaks into a wide smile. The three journalists listening to the story stifle a giggle and de Kock uses the opportunity for some playful grandstanding. "Usually I used to say things like 'Okay, I've got this', now I just say 'It's cool' and I just accept it."

As Russell Domingo put it on the team's arrival from the UAE, de Kock is still seen as a "wild young thing", and so he needs the rest of the team to signpost the way towards a more cautious, measured style of play, though he is still allowed to rely on his discretion to bring out his big shots.

Aggressive strokeplay is how de Kock made his name. He forced his way into the national selectors' line of sight, and ultimately the team, with an array of Jackson Pollock-esque performances: they were colourful, they made no sense at first sighting, but they were magnificent to look at.

De Kock was the fifth-highest run-scorer in the 20-over competition two seasons ago and the leading man last season. He flayed bowling attacks with disdain. He did not need to be told to calm down.

When he was picked for South Africa, at first to play New Zealand at home, he thought he could do things in exactly the same way. In six innings it seemed he could, though his highest score was 31 in an ODI.

That same characteristic, on display in the Champions League Twenty20, resulted in a contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad, where his first major learning came. De Kock only played three matches for the IPL franchise and he remembers, with some humility, that he had an average of 2.00. The sample size was small but it seemed he struggled on slower surfaces and against the turning ball - two things not commonly found in South Africa, where he collected runs at will.

The same weaknesses were evident on South Africa's tour of Sri Lanka, and it set the usually carefree de Kock on a path of self-reflection. "I had to go and look at my faults," he said. "I had to turn a negative into a positive and it really made me go back and look at things differently."

De Kock came from a franchise environment that was built on care. When he told his coach, Geoffrey Toyana, he wanted to practise more, Toyana was only too happy to put the extra hours in with him. When he went to his senior-most team-mate Neil McKenzie and asked for advice, McKenzie not only dispensed it freely but worked with him in the nets to help him get it right.

"It was about having a game plan, because in the past sometimes I didn't have that. I didn't change too much - maybe I was a little tighter - but it was more about having plans"

Both Toyana and McKenzie were pleasantly taken aback by the dedication de Kock showed to improving. "Quinny realised what it would take to make it at international level and he was willing to put in the hard yards to get there," Toyana said. "He really wanted it."

De Kock's work ethic hovered at average levels before the Sri Lanka series but it soared above what anyone expected when he returned home. The time he spent in the nets threatened to rival even McKenzie's - who has earned a reputation as the last man to leave the practice ground - and the determination he showed told Toyana that de Kock was serious about playing for South Africa.

His efforts paid off as early as the Champions League Twenty20, a month after the Sri Lanka series. De Kock was Lions' top scorer and their only centurion, and his technique had noticeably improved. "It was about having a game plan, because in the past sometimes I didn't have that," he said. "I didn't change too much - maybe I was a little tighter - but it was more about having plans."

No longer was he swishing at every ball, expecting to connect and land it on the other side of the boundary. He was thinking about the game. He was also thinking about what many of his team-mates, opponents, coaches and media had said, and realised their words rang true.

"People have told me I have talent. Guys like Macky and Hashim [Amla] have told me that and sometimes I hate it because I have too many options," he said. "But they also told me it's all down to hard work. So I took that advice."

These days de Kock is one of the last people to leave the South African training sessions. He spends as much time as he can hitting balls, talking about strategies, and practicing his glovework. "I'm enjoying the keeping as well. It's something I am also working on," he said. "I never used to take this many catches in the past either."

De Kock has been touted as the future of South African cricket - he forms a partnership at the top of the order in limited-overs cricket that Faf du Plessis has called the "right combination of flair and stability", and his keeping wicket frees up AB de Villiers. He is also honing his longer-form game to be able to push for a place in the Test team in the years to come.

And until that happens, he understands that he will just have to take it easy and keep working. And it's something he is completely comfortable doing.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rebaone on November 29, 2013, 10:34 GMT

    De Kock should certainly replace Biff in LOI's and eventually in tests. He is composed at the crease with good hand eye coordination, test cricket will soon show if he has BMT, I believe he has it. The best young bat in RSA.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2013, 2:57 GMT

    firstly he is not overrated. look at our indian team. rohit sharma struggled for 2-3 years but still msd supported him and now finally he is producing gold from his bat. and de kock is an awesome talent. i realized it when i saw his batting in under-19 wc. first he struggled a bit in international cricket after coming there. but now he is delivering as expected. and he needs to be selected in the test squad. he will become 21 this december, so this is the right time for him to get into the squad

  • David on November 26, 2013, 9:30 GMT

    @ AhmadRyan believes that " like many has said, his real test would be in the sub-continent when he faces the likes of Ajmal, Ashwin, Hafeez and Herath on a slow and turning pitch."

    Do the "many" who talk of this "real test" actually follow cricket. De Kock just played 3 ODIs & 2 T20s in the UAE, facing Ajmal, Hafeez & Co. Of all players in T20s, de Kock had:highest ave, 79 & highest SR, 136.84; 3rd & 7th highest inngs scores; 2nd most runs; highest SR in an innings; most runs from 4s & 6s in an inngs - both matches; 2nd most 6s in an inngs,

    In ODIs, de Kock had: highest ave, 62; 2nd most runs (3 inngs, scored 7 less runs that Shehzad/de Villiers each in 5 inngs;) 2nd highest score (by 3 runs;) 2nd most runs from 4s & 6s in an inngs.

    He did quite well in that "real test?"

    De Kock has been superb in the REAL "real test:" Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Tsotsobe et al on juicy wickets in South Africa. Aus - 47 all out. NZ - 45 all out. Pak - 49 all out. India, are you ready to be tested?

  • Blessing on November 26, 2013, 2:04 GMT

    Keep you a level head and work hard young man your future looks bright

  • Rob on November 26, 2013, 1:20 GMT

    A fabulous talent who has every chance of being SA's batsman/keeper in all forms of the game for the next decade and a half. Partly to spare his back but time to permanently remove the gloves from AB.

  • Peter on November 25, 2013, 23:24 GMT

    @GRVJPR. Over-rated? Really? That will be his real test? I'll tell you one thing, lad, this kid can play 150 kph+ short balls aimed at his head as good as any other player in the game. Can any of your guys? This guy is special, the Boks have a good-un in him. Like a few others who posted here, I enjoy watching new talent & this guy ticks a lot of boxes.

  • Paul on November 25, 2013, 21:24 GMT

    GRVJPR - can your 'wunderkind' Rohit Sharma play on a wicket even mildly approaching pace and bounce? We'll soon find out...and my suspicion is that de Kock will prove better playing spin in India than flat track bullies like Sharma and Raina - and, of course, the king of them all, Yuvraj Singh - will playing pace in South Africa or Australia. It's time everyone gave de Kock, just 20 years old and with a first class batting average of 55, the credit he deserves. He is the brightest talent on our cricketing landscape.

  • Paulo on November 25, 2013, 18:53 GMT

    First class average of over 50. Get him in the test team.

  • Keith on November 25, 2013, 13:58 GMT

    Nice to learn that De Kock is working diligently. I wonder if even putting in hard yards will really make a difference when asked to stretch himself between the two 1-day formats (T20, ODI) and ultimately to the Test arena. The evidence from the recent T20 matches away in UAE and home in RSA, plus the first ODI at Cape Town/Newlands, is regrettably ominous for De Kock, the rest of the Proteas, and indeed for all of international cricket. De Kock thought to treat the ODI as a sort of jumped-up T20, looked good for a bit, and got out softly while on 13. A one-off, you might say. But the post-match commentators for SuperSport (Pommie Mbangwa, HD Ackerman, Shaun Pollock) were baffled by the Saffers inability to chase a modest total on a fortress home ground requiring just 4 runs per over. De Kock + everyone else is infected by "T20-itis" and it is creating mass confusion in ODIs. Soon it will infect Tests; the long-term failure of England batsmen to perform properly is a 1st sign.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2013, 13:23 GMT

    I have known this young man since he started playing for the SA U-19s in England months before the U-19 world cup in Australia.He scored a couple of good 50s here and there and in the world cup though he did not lead SA to slverware with his captain Bowes and other talents like de Bruyn,Savage and Coetzee he did end up the tournament's highest scorer for SA.I was looking forward to watch him play and he has come though although like he says,a lot more work to do.But for now,the 100 against a solid Pak attack shows promise more than ever.SA should invest in this youngman like they did in de villiers,oddly the only player that they invested the most in.