Verreynne overcomes doubts and criticism to show glimpse of future
South Africa batter reveals he worked on playing the ball late to improve his game
Kyle Verreynne is among only a handful of batters on South Africa's first-class scene to maintain a career average of 50 since his debut in 2015, but even with the weight of numbers behind him, he entered the international stage with hesitation. After eight Test innings with an average of 14, that turned into serious uncertainty.
"It's been quite challenging, mentally. Test cricket is the toughest format of the game and my first couple of series - starting in the West Indies - were on quite challenging wickets," Verreynne said, after his unbeaten 136 on Monday. "Against India, it was probably the toughest pitches I played on and then coming here, in the first Test, the wicket was also quite tough to bat on. Mentally, you have a lot of doubts about yourself. You read a lot of things people are writing. There were a lot of questions being asked about me technically."
High on the list of questions about Verreynne was why, before his innings in the second Test against New Zealand, he tucked away the aggressive approach he made his name on in the domestic circuit, and whether he should use his feet more. He spent the last week addressing both those concerns and realised his more tentative approach was a response to the slower surfaces in the Caribbean and he needed to adjust back to playing on surfaces with pace and bounce. "When we were in West Indies, I tried to change my technique to adjust to those conditions. When we got back to South Africa, I never went back to how I had been batting before," he said. "I felt in West Indies, those adjustments were important but I forgot the importance of what worked beforehand. So I made some small things with my trigger movement."
He is still not convinced that he needs to move his feet more and is instead looking at playing the ball as late as possible. "Footwork has never been a strong point of mine. It's more about contact points," he said. "That's something I have been working on a lot. Footwork isn't always the most important thing, it's more about if I am playing the ball late."
His array of well-timed and placed pulls and cuts were examples of how Verreynne has tweaked his approach to playing the ball under his eyes and almost at the last possible second. And he also found the tempo he was known for in local circles - after scoring only two runs off the first 10 balls he faced this morning, he hit 24 off the next 25. His first fifty runs came in 98 balls and the second fifty in 61 and his partnerships with Kagiso Rabada, who scored a 34-ball 47, came at a rate of 7.42 to the over.
While Verreynne allowed South Africa to bat long and deep, Rabada's knock changed the tone of the innings and buoyed South Africa when they took the field.
"With KG, there wasn't a plan for him to come out and play the way he did, but he said he was feeling pretty good," Verreynne said. "He said to me he was going to stick around with me while I get to my hundred but once he started hitting it, I said to him to just carry on going because it looked like he couldn't miss it. The way he played was one of the big factors of the energy we took into our bowling. What he was able to do, it gave everyone a bit of energy. It was good to see."
"Footwork isn't always the most important thing, it's more about if I am playing the ball late."Kyle Verreynne
Rabada left Verreynne on 95 and it was Keshav Maharaj who he celebrated his century with. Though this could be an innings that defines the early phase of his international career, Verreynne said he didn't feel it as though he was at risk of being benched if he didn't get to three figures in this series. "I didn't feel like I was batting for my place," he said. "I just felt pride. I've worked my whole life to play Test cricket. To get across the line and make a contribution is something I am really proud of. When I did cross the mark, it was a sense of pride and joy that I made a big impact towards pushing for a result."
He also brushed off any comparisons to his predecessor Quinton de Kock, who retired from Test cricket at the end of 2021, creating the opportunity for Verreynne to have a long run in the XI. "I've never been made to feel like I am Quinny's replacement. His retirement came as a shock to all of us but from the next day, I had support and backing that this is my spot," Verreynne said. "He had a great Test career and he was very successful so I understand there's going to be expectations to live up to what he has done. I have been fortunate that I've been backed. I've got time and I just need to be myself."
Six Tests into his career, Verreynne is already repaying the faith the coaching staff have shown in him. His hundred may go on to form part of a historic win and unbroken streak of never losing a Test series to New Zealand, something that looked impossible after their massive defeat in the first Test. "Things didn't go according to plan. Everyone knows that," Verreynne said. "But before that, we beat India 2-1 so within the team, there were no doubts of what we were capable of. We saw the first Test as just one of those things. Sometimes it happens in the sport where everything just falls apart, which it did in the first Test."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent