South Africa v England, 1st ODI, Bloemfontein February 4, 2016

De Kock seizes his second chance

His rise was interrupted by injury but Quinton de Kock has returned to the international fold even stronger

Play 01:00
'Haven't scored a 100 like that in a while' - de Kock

When ODI cricket first started, run-scoring was, by modern standards, slow. Things began to speed up in 1996, largely thanks to Sri Lanka's industriousness at the World Cup, and totals of 300 were more common. Over the last two decades, each year there have been at least 10 totals of over 300. Then last year things sped up again and 300 began to look average. There were 59 totals of 300 or more and 19 above 350 in 2015, double the number of scores that high in any other year.

Given that progress, it is little wonder teams want an aggressive approach to batting, led by an opener who does more than just lay a solid foundation. They want one that can set off fireworks too.

England realised that after the 2015 World Cup, when they developed a new model for ODI cricket, inspired by New Zealand's Brendon McCullum blueprint. They did away with bookish openers in the Alastair Cook and Ian Bell mould and employed the services of swashbuckling stylists Alex Hales and Jason Roy to give them innovation and intent from the start.

South Africa did not need such an overhaul. With AB de Villiers ensconced in the middle order, they always had someone who could take the game away from opposition even though his impact sometimes depended on how well, or poorly, the top order performed. With Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis ahead of him, de Villiers did not often have to do a repair job but he sometimes had to be chief accelerator. Now he has Quinton de Kock to start proceedings and it seems the role de Kock was born to do.

Since he first arrived on the scene, de Kock's established himself as a fearless cricketer. See ball. Hit ball. As reckless as Herschelle Gibbs or David Warner but as talented too. De Kock's natural ability combined with the complete absence of insecurity that stops other batsmen from lashing out at the first bad ball they see means that, in form, he can take South Africa from first-gear to cruise control in so little time, he gives them control of an innings.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, that's exactly what he did. He scored three successive centuries against India at home, another against Sri Lanka in South Africa's first ODI series win on the island and a trio of fifties in Zimbabwe where South Africa won a triangular tournament which also featured Australia. It was all shaping up well for the World Cup but then de Kock got injured.

In December 2014, he rolled on his ankle in warm-ups on the morning of a Test against West Indies and the World Cup became a distant dream. The initial diagnosis made it seem likely de Kock would have to sit out at least some of the tournament and if he played, it would be without game time. South Africa's entire strategy was about to unfold but de Kock made a remarkably speedy recovery and was taken to the event - perhaps a little hastily.

He did not look the same player. In his first five games, he scored 27 runs and was out trying to force the pace. He got to 26 against the UAE and then played a blinder in the quarter-final to allay fears of a loss of form but it was short-lived. De Kock continued to struggle in Bangladesh and the selectors were forced to drop him.

Quinton de Kock made his highest ODI score in Bloemfontein © Getty Images

Most players would have taken that very seriously, as a sign they needed some introspection and a plan to get back to on track. In his own words, de Kock "did not care". He was so put off by being sidelined, he decided he would play with even less care than before and to his surprise, it worked.

De Kock scored two hundreds in two List A matches for South Africa A against India, a century in an unofficial Test in the same series and topped the run-charts in the domestic T20 competition. Without even trying, he played himself back into the South African squad and, when he returned, he would have found things had changed.

He was no longer the boy-wonder of the squad. That label had landed on Kagiso Rabada. He was no longer the main attraction either. In India, where de Kock was first recalled for the ODIs, no South African ever is except maybe de Villiers. Back home, when returned to the Test squad, Temba Bavuma stole the headlines with his historic hundred in Cape Town and the rest of the media space was occupied with dissecting South Africa's ailing fortunes. De Kock was just a regular player who had to do a regular job until he thrust himself back into the spotlight with what could become a career-defining century in the final Test at Centurion.

De Kock proved he had grown up and he proved it again in the first ODI against England. His 138 not out was not just a career-best, it was the backbone of a 400 run chase South Africa believed they could achieve. "I haven't scored a hundred like that in a long time," de Kock said afterwards. He has actually scored three; three hundreds - two in ODIs and one in Tests - since making his comeback but this was different.

It showed he could shoulder responsibility and lead the charge. It showed that all the audacious skill is still there, now wisened by a sensibility that comes with age. It showed that the future, as de Kock was so often called, is still bright.

It is too late to wonder what would have been had de Kock's purple patch not been interrupted by injury and had he gone to the World Cup in form. It is early for South Africa to start wondering if the World T20 might be within their grasp if de Kock stays in form until then. It is just the right time to enjoy the way de Kock has developed.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments