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Feature

Could missing the rest of the series be a good thing for de Kock?

It's the second high-profile series in which he looks a little out of sorts and the break could help him regain his touch

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
30-Dec-2021
Quinton de Kock's dismissal prompted a collapse of 6 for 93 in the first innings  •  AFP via Getty Images

Quinton de Kock's dismissal prompted a collapse of 6 for 93 in the first innings  •  AFP via Getty Images

The bad news is that Quinton de Kock, a key cog in South Africa's batting line-up and the one person who could single-handedly turn this series around, will miss the next two Tests. His wife Sasha is due to give birth to their first child next week and in ordinary circumstances he would be back for the third Test but bio-bubble regulations prevent that from happening this time.
The good news is that he probably needs the time away. That may seem a strange thing to say considering this is South Africa's first international assignment of a busy summer but it is also their eighth tour in a bubble and the second high-profile engagement where de Kock looks a little out of sorts.
Although de Kock was the leading run-scorer in Tests and T20Is in the West Indies and in the T20Is against Sri Lanka, he had a disappointing T20 World Cup with 69 runs in four matches and was the only South African batter who could hold himself almost entirely responsible for his dismissals in the opening Test against India. And that is not to be disparaging. While the rest were outsmarted by excellent bowling, de Kock got himself in and then got himself out, with shots that are both indicative of his fearless style and illustrative of the steps he now needs to take as he steps into the role of seniority.
In the first innings, after being dropped off the first ball when he pushed at a Mohammed Siraj delivery and edged to third slip, de Kock reached for a wide Shardul Thakur ball and played on. He knew he could have left it. He had harsh words with himself and swung his bat wildly over the stumps before slamming it into the turd and heading to the changeroom to the ominous jingle of CSA's new sponsor, Johnnie Walker. "Keep walking," is what plays over the loudspeaker every time a batter is dismissed. It's hardly comforting and it would have stung particularly for de Kock.
He left Temba Bavuma on 31 and ended their partnership of 72, South Africa's highest of the match, just when it seemed they were mounting a challenge. He also ended his own innings which, apart from the early chance, was showing signs of success. de Kock took on R Ashwin and was negotiating Mohammed Shami with the older ball. If anyone was going to take South Africa close to India's total, it had to be de Kock but when he was dismissed, it prompted a collapse of 6 for 93, with the lower order unable to hold on.
In the second innings, though South Africa's chances of victory were unlikely, de Kock and Bavuma were their best chance of taking the chase deep. After surviving his opening delivery from Jasprit Bumrah, which just missed the outside edge, de Kock hit back-to-back fours before a duel with Siraj.
The deliveries came in back of a length and de Kock shaped up for the cut. He sliced the first through extra cover but missed the second and third, inside-edging onto his pad and then being beaten. The fourth delivery was full and de Kock drove to the non-striker's end, and nearly felled Bavuma, and the last one he faced in that over was short and cut to point.
Siraj came back for more in his next over, with the same line and length. His first delivery beat de Kock, his second was defended, and his third, which angled back in, lured de Kock into the cut, which he inside-edged onto his stumps. Kudos to Siraj, who set de Kock up, but equally, there's a reason to zone in on de Kock. He is too good a player to fall into that trap.
In fact, de Kock is probably the only South African batter who oppositions truly see as someone they may find difficult to stop. Though Dean Elgar is their most experienced, Markram is their most technically sound and Bavuma their most gutsy, de Kock is their most dangerous. And that is exactly why South Africa need him to step up in the next few series.
de Kock has been a Test player for almost eight years and should only have just passed the halfway mark in his international career. Even if Kyle Verreynne goes on to score bags of runs in the remaining two Tests, the selection policy which gives the incumbents their place back, means that, if available, de Kock will slot in for the series against New Zealand and the one after that against Bangladesh. Those are perfect opportunities for de Kock to assume a slightly different role, which does not detract from his natural ability, but also transfers more responsibility onto him.
He can no longer go all out with abandon but he won't need cricket to teach him that. In the next few weeks, de Kock will take on his biggest responsibility, as he becomes a father and his priorities are likely to change completely. That could worry South Africa because de Kock has already expressed how challenging he finds bubble life and the arrival of a baby may further complicate that. Perhaps the realities of the pandemic will change in 2022, to allow for fewer restrictions, and create a more conducive environment for de Kock to play in.
The bad news is that New Zealand, where South Africa have their next assignment, continues to have some of the strictest travel requirements in the world. The good news is that once you have served your quarantine period there, life continues pretty much as it was BC (Before Covid-19) and that may bring us the best of de Kock 2.0.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent