Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle July 15, 2014

De Kock inclusion could change batting dynamics

The temporary change in wicketkeeping duties, even for a Test, could indicate how South Africa's new-look batting will present itself, with at least three young players waiting to be tested

First there was the change of captain which automatically brought about a change in the opening batsman but now South Africa are faced with a third major difference to the team of old as their new Test era begins. AB de Villiers is unlikely to keep wicket in Galle after hurting his hamstring while batting on Saturday. Quinton de Kock will take his place behind the stumps and although the move may only be temporary, it is a sign of where the team's future is headed.

Although de Villiers was a prominent figure in South Africa's pre-practice football game, Hashim Amla said he is "unlikely," to appear behind the stumps in the first Test because his right hamstring has not fully recovered from the strain it suffered in the ODIs. The niggle will not rule de Villiers out of participating completely and he should still be able to bat in his regular position.

As a result, South Africa seem to be planning their XI around the possibility of de Villiers batting only and de Kock keeping. "With Quinny playing, it changes the dynamic of the team," Amla said. "We will probably have one spinner and then JP - luckily he played a pretty significant part in the one-day series as well. If need be, we will use Dean Elgar (to bowl) as well. He's had a bit of a golden arm. But it would be great if we don't need him."

South Africa were unlikely to go into the match with two specialist spinners in Imran Tahir and Dane Piedt so their bowling plan is as expected but the inclusion of de Kock impacts on their batting strategy. For now, it will likely keep last season's first-class competition's top run-scorer Stiaan van Zyl on the sidelines but in the long-term it could affect the top three.

De Kock is an opening batsman by trade and has excelled in that role for the Lions. His first-class average sits at 47.15 and includes four centuries. He has not always kept wicket for the franchise and was not among the top run-scorers last season when international duty interrupted his domestic availability, which will probably keep him confined to the lower middle-order at the moment, but that could easily change.

Effectively, de Kock's inclusion has put both Alviro Petersen and Elgar on notice. Petersen has not scored a century since January 2013 - 18 months and 17 innings ago. That probably means the pressure is higher on him than Elgar who, if he opens, will only be doing it for the second time despite it being his regular position. A lean run for either of them could see de Kock move up and van Zyl slotted in lower down.

It has also opened the door for de Villiers to move up the order if needed. To properly explain this, the de Villiers debate needs to be dusted off. One of the chief reasons de Villiers was not slotted into Jacques Kallis' place higher-up was because it was considered a strain on him given that much was already expected of him at No.5 and he was keeping wicket.

If the gloves are taken away and with de Villiers also not weighed down by the responsibility of leadership - he was one of the frontrunners for the captaincy as well - there would seem little reason not to make best use of him higher in the order. At the moment, Faf du Plessis is in the position and has done fairly well with two half-centuries against Australia so it would take a lean run or a rethink of tactics to displace him but neither are impossibilities.

To put the wide-angled lens on it, de Kock's probable presence in Wednesday's XI, albeit forced, shows that South Africa are thinking of how their new-look team will present itself. They have a variety of combinations to consider and an impressive calibre of players to choose from. The trio of de Kock, Elgar and van Zyl have all proved their capabilities in the first-class set-up and all three of them could soon be playing alongside each other in the Test team.

But in the immediate term, it means South Africa also have the excitement and the anxiety that comes with uncertainty. They are conducting experiments at the moment not operating as the well-oiled machine that rose to No.1 in August 2012 and stayed there for 20 months. At the same time, they are trying to regain that position and the only way they can do that over the next few months is by beating Sri Lanka in this series.

Ordinarily, a task that tough would have weighed South Africa down but they appear genuinely buoyed by what is being asked of them. The infusion of youth, not just in age terms because both Elgar and van Zyl are 26 and not all that young anyway, but in terms of fresh mindset it is obvious in the current set-up. There are new ideas and the unburdening of de Villiers is only one of them that may be applied in the near future. Who knows what the others may be?

Things stayed the same for so long in South African cricket that perhaps this time change is being embraced so tightly, South Africa don't mind it coming in threes.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steven on July 16, 2014, 3:23 GMT

    Dekock should take the gloves permanently let ab focus on batting dekock is talented and will be in the team as long as Boucher was but his batting stats will better then bouchers alviro and Elgar at the top Amal faf ab at 3/4/5 jp at 6 dekock at 7 vernon at 8 steyn morkel and tahir to follow that's agood side to me that covers most bases I think pressure on the openers to score runs though to set abase for the very strong middle order to take advantage of

  • Advait on July 16, 2014, 3:08 GMT

    If De Kock opens and keeps, it will put way too must pressure on him first up. IMO, it should be amla and elgar opening, and then peterson down the line. ABD should be batting at 5 cause Faf has done nothing wrong to be pushed down. De Kock should be batting 7 with duminy at 6.

  • Sohan on July 16, 2014, 2:52 GMT

    AB is far better wicketkeeper than Quiny. So he must keep wickets.

  • Rob on July 16, 2014, 0:36 GMT

    Unlucky for Van Zyl but can't help but think that removing the gloves from AB and giving them permanently to de Kock in test cricket is only good for SA. Quite right also to point out that the pressure is on Petersen and Elgar. Roussow not far away too from the test squad. Still think that Puttick could have filled a similar role to Rogers with Australia.

  • Peter on July 15, 2014, 22:21 GMT

    From a neutral POV, ABD playing without the gloves should be a blessing as it will allow him, IMHO, a longer run in form without the pressure of keeping. Like Sanga, I think cricket will be the major winner here to allow cricket fans to watch such a quality player like ABD. Am looking forward to this series as it will give us a glimpse of how the new direction Sth Africa is heading. Sri Lanka, as always, will be very very tough to beat in their back yard.

  • ESPN on July 15, 2014, 20:22 GMT

    Can anyone from SA explain the situation regarding Parnell and where he is now with the Test team? I know he is a great ODI bowler , but recently in the Australia series in the 2nd test I thought he was a right handful for the Aussie batsmen as they seemed to have the most trouble against his bowling as maybe cause he is left handed? Just thought your attack looked more balanced with Steyn, Morkal , Vern , Parnell.

  • David on July 15, 2014, 16:08 GMT

    @ ZCFOutkast questions "dropping Alviro instead of lowering him down the order to prove himself …"

    I really agree with that. I have said many times since his fantastic debut in India that I think Alviro would do better down the order, and having him open seems as sensible as having Prince open, which was a terrible, It is not even a question of 2nd or 3rd chance, but a question of where Alviro would make the best contribution.

    Alviro is naturally aggressive - probably just a bit too aggressive for an opener. But when he gets set he can take a game away.

    I've also wondered why Hash does not open. He has been exposed early so many times, by both Smith & Alviro, that he might as well have opened anyway! It is not like his success is in any way linked to the openers doing their job & setting him up. And he clearly has no trouble opening in ODIs.

  • Zain on July 15, 2014, 15:16 GMT

    @ZCFOutkast - I agree Thami is a better keeper than QdK. But QdK is young - he can only get better. Thami on the other hand ...

    Also de Kock is a far superior batsman and in time he could come to own the number 7 position if he is given an opportunity.

  • Zain on July 15, 2014, 15:12 GMT

    @Tommy - replacing Vernon with either Abbot or Piedt is just silly. Philander is possibly the best SEAM bowler in the world at the moment (or a close second to Ryan Harris). Abbot will struggle in unfriendly SL conditions and he is not as good a batsman as Philander. Dane Piedt is a good spinner but I believe he is only in the team as backup should Tahir get injured. Steyn doesn't have the quality to bat at number 8.

    Otherwise, Alviro needs to perform and, since AB is not keeping, he and Amla should bat at 3 and 4. QdK struggled against Nathan Lyon's spin in PE earlier this year - I hope he copes with Herath because he will probably be the batsman batting with the tail-enders

    All in all I am extremely excited to see what this post-Smith SA team can do!

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2014, 14:56 GMT

    Quinton de Kock didn't open regularly for the Lions in FC cricket - he was very successful at #5 though.

    Would guard against manufacturing Stiaan van Zyl into a makeshift opener - he's an ideal #3 or #4 and has been incredibly successful in the middle order for the Cobras.

    Unfortunately the most consistent opener in domestic FC cricket this season is about as wet behind the ears as a player could be - David White of the Warriors. Very talented though and part of the "A" tour to Australia - perhaps another good season or two from him could see him challenging that position at the top of the order.

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