Quinton de Kock, South Africa's white-ball captain, has not hit a single ball in more than three months and only plans to return to the nets when "serious cricket," is ready to resume, which he can't see that happening "for a while."
The game has not been on de Kock's agenda since mid-March when he returned home from India with the ODI squad. Their trip was due to include three matches but after one game (which was rained out), the series was postponed as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
On March 16, CSA suspended all activities and two days later, when de Kock and the traveling party returned home, they were required to self-isolate for 14 days as South Africa went into lockdown. Although restrictions have eased since it came into effect on March 27, the stay-at-home order is into its 101st day and limitations on domestic travel still apply. Cricketers were given the green light to return to training on Monday last week but de Kock has yet to get going.
"I haven't done anything," he said after being named cricketer of the year at the CSA awards which were held virtually on Saturday. "Obviously I've kept up with fitness. I've done my training in the gym but I haven't hit a ball yet. There's still so much time until the next serious cricket game is going to happen. So to go back to serious training, I don't know when it needs to happen. I mean, you can go back to hitting balls, for now. But we could actually be hitting balls for no reason. That's where I feel I'm at."
Though de Kock has taken what he described as a much-needed break, he will be required to turn out in less than two weeks' time when a CSA exhibition game is scheduled. The event marks the launch of a new format called 3TC in which three teams will play in the same match and was originally scheduled to take place on June 27 but failure to obtain government permission led to its being pushed back to July 18.
De Kock is due to captain one of the teams with proceeds due to go into CSA's hardship fund, which aims to assist those who livelihoods have been affected by lockdown. Only 24 players are involved in that event (eight per team) and CSA have also named a 45-man high performance squad, who were asked to return to training at their franchise grounds last Monday, but de Kock confirmed he has not done so yet.
"Because of the regulations, it's hard to have such a big squad in a certain environment," he said. "I'm based in a very remote place. There's not much cricket around where I live. I've made sure my fitness is up to date. Practice almost becomes muscle memory. For me, at this point in my career, a break is more important than training."
De Kock lives in Knysna, a town on South Africa's Garden Route in the Western Cape. His franchise team, the Titans, is based in Centurion, which is almost 1200 km away and the nearest training facility to him would be St George's Park in Port Elizabeth, which is 261 km away. But to get there, he would need to cross a into a new province, which is not easy right now.
So, de Kock decided to take some time off and address the wounds from South Africa's toughest summer since readmission. "I'm sure other guys have trained, but I kind of needed a little bit of lockdown. I needed a break to spend time with myself, my family, friends. You know, do my own thing," he said. "But as soon as we get the full go-ahead, when serious cricket is going to happen, then I'll get back into it. I'm not too sure when it's going to happen, but as soon as we get the go ahead then I'll get back into it."
Uncertainty over South Africa's future tours program abounds as they await the ICC's decision over the T20 World Cup and the rescheduling of their tour of the Caribbean. The two-Test, five-T20I series was due to start this month. But with West Indies in England until the end of July, CSA are in talks about alternative dates with nothing confirmed just yet, except for the fact that when the Tests do happen, de Kock will not be captaining the side.
"Me and Bouch had a very informal chat and I told him, look, I don't know how I feel about being Test captain also. The reality is that's just too much for me to handle. I know that and I realise that. I don't need all that stress on myself," de Kock said. "I could see from a mile away that I didn't need that on top of my shoulders. I'm wanting to come up the order in Test cricket and so I don't need all that extra pressure."
South Africa have long used de Kock at No.6 or lower despite several calls from former players, including Ashwell Prince, for him to bat higher and it seems that may be on the cards. But for that to happen, South Africa needs to get over the peak of the pandemic, which experts suggest is still several weeks away. "It's going to be tough to play professional games," de Kock said. "We're going to have so many regulations. Realistically, I don't foresee cricket being played for a while."