After finishing as the leading scorer for the Mumbai Indians in IPL 2019, Quinton de Kock is back at the top of the chart for the team in IPL 2020. But, the opening batsman said, it was tougher than usual for him this year because the six months spent away from the game because of the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa left him "lost" and "a bit confused" when he resumed batting.
After 12 innings, he has 392 runs - with a string of four 40-plus scores in between - and an average of nearly 40, but it started with a few low scores apart from a 20-ball 33 against the Chennai Super Kings in the tournament opener. Thereafter, he managed 1, 14 and 0, scoring those 15 runs at a strike rate of 68.18.
"I was hitting the ball well in the nets. [I] just might have made a couple of silly mistakes in my first part of the tournament; nothing that can't be fixed," de Kock said at a media briefing on Friday. "Before, it was just a mental thing; I hadn't batted for a long time, so I was just trying to get over that mark. Once I found some rhythm, that's when I started to feel a lot better, especially out in the middle. It was just a matter of doing it out there."
When asked if his scratchy form at the start of the tournament was mainly an effect of the gap from March to September, he said, "Yeah, obviously. I think it did, a little bit. To be honest, I was a little bit lost and [it was] hard to build an innings. I didn't know when to go hard, when not to, I was a bit confused for some reason. I think it was because of the break.
"Getting some time to bat a little bit longer in the middle and having a chat to one or two of the coaches helped me out and to figure out, and [I] understand much better now."
After the first four matches, the Mumbai Indians' campaign moved to Sharjah for the first time, to face the Sunrisers Hyderabad. The stage was set for de Kock: the Sunrisers' leading bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar was out with an injury, they were at the most batting-friendly venue in the UAE, and Rohit Sharma had opted to bat after winning the toss.
De Kock took his time to get his eye in, and also faced only 12 off the 36 balls in the powerplay, for 13 runs. At the other end, the Mumbai Indians lost both Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav in that phase. Once he was dropped near the long-on boundary off part-time spinner Abdul Samad in the seventh over, de Kock tore into Samad and then took on Kane Williamson and Siddarth Kaul to smash 56 off their 24 balls, including four sixes, to finish with a 39-ball 67.
Following that, he scored 23, 53, 78*, 53 and 46* - across venues - to help the team register five wins in their next six matches. De Kock said his task has been to give Mumbai the "best start possible", and if he is still batting when the likes of Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard come out, his plan is to give them strike as much as possible "because they're the bigger strikers of the ball".
Mumbai's opening combination changed once Sharma picked up a hamstring injury, and de Kock says he has had good "understanding" with Ishan Kishan, who too has a "flair" for strokes and likes to attack from the beginning. "He really likes to come out and play a lot of his shots and sometimes it can help me if I'm not going (well)," de Kock said of his new partner, "and ends up taking a lot of pressure off me which is a pretty good thing in a partnership."
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo