De Kock eager to be SA's go-to man
Moments after scooping five awards including Cricketer of the Year at CSA's annual celebration, Quinton de Kock made a curious confession: he would like to make more mistakes. Errors, he believed, were the best way to improve as a cricketer, especially if he could figure out how to overcome them himself.
"I feel that I am learning but I don't know as much as a lot of the other players," de Kock said. "I'm the type of guy, you can tell me what to do but I need to do it for myself - for me to actually experience it and learn from those mistakes myself. Once that happens I know I'll grow. I'm a fairly fast learner - well, I think I am - but we'll see next season."
Among de Kock's accomplishments in the 2016-17 season were a string of five consecutive scores of fifty or more at the top of the order in ODIs and repeatedly bailing his team out of tough situations from down the order in Tests.
"I am really focused on getting my batting ability much higher, better knowing that in the next couple of years the older guys will start falling out and we will have to start replacing them," he said. "And I'm going to have to start playing more of a senior role in the team. It's that sort of mindset that's shifting at the moment for me."
Most noticeably, de Kock seems to have struck a balance between carefree and confident. He has found a way to retain his naturally aggressive style of play, without being reckless, and explained that his next challenge was showing more patience on pitches that lack in pace.
"Sometimes I'm quite instinctive but sometimes I try and read what the bowler is doing and I try and play to that situation. Sometimes my technique is not the best for slow decks. It's about learning to play on them and in those situations," he said. "I've grown up on the Highveld so fast wickets are my game. So I'm still learning to play on slow decks where the ball's turning excessively."
What may help de Kock in that endeavour is his other skill of keeping wicket. From behind the stumps, where he took 61 catches across all formats last season, de Kock has as close a view as anyone could want to assess how the ball behaves off a particular surface. "The keeping helps me in my batting. I'm in a good position, I can see the wicket, I feel I can adapt quicker to how things will pan out," he said.
De Kock's all-round ability will be important for South Africa on their next assignment: the Champions Trophy. He will go into the tournament, much like he did the 2015 World Cup, on the back of an injury with massive expectation on both him and the team. De Kock has declared himself fully fit after the finger injury sustained in New Zealand which kept him out of the IPL and also brushed aside the public pressure to break a major tournament drought.
"I don't want to say too much," he said. "I don't want to jinx myself or jinx the team. The Proteas have always been seen as favourites when they go into big tournaments. This time we don't want to be that. We just want to be that team who go there and does our best. We'll try to win it. We know we've got a lot of backing at the moment because of the season we've just had. People can say we're going to win, but we hear that at every ICC tournament. So we're just going to take it game by game and not get too ahead of ourselves."
Unlike some of his team-mates, de Kock truly does appear unaffected by South Africa's wretched luck at ICC events, as he was about the handful of trophies he collected on Saturday. All he wants is to get better so that he can help the team do better and he considers anything that comes after that a bonus.
"I never feel quite as good when I walk off the field and I haven't done anything for the team, whether that's helping out with a run-out or something that could just change the momentum of the game or keep the momentum in our favour. That makes me enjoy the game more. Sure, accolades make you feel good. But when you know you're doing your bit for the team, that's what makes you feel good."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent