Quinton de Kock has confirmed he will not be South Africa's long-term Test captain but is willing to tide his team over until a permanent candidate emerges.
de Kock, who already leads the team in white-ball formats, was asked to do the same for this season's Tests even after the director of cricket Graeme Smith said South Africa did not want to overburden their star player, who also keeps wicket and is among the team's senior-most batsmen. de Kock admitted that accepting the position was not automatic for him, and he only did so on the proviso that the selectors are on the lookout for someone else.
"When they (the selectors) told me the situation that we were in, I understood where they were coming from. Obviously, I didn't accept it immediately. I did think about it and I understood, it's just for now. For this season. It's not a long-term thing," de Kock said, from the team's biosecure bubble at the Irene Country Club in Centurion. "It's just [till] when we get someone who really puts up their hand, they will take over. The guys are looking for a long-term leadership role. I won't be doing that. There does seem a lot on my plate but I am quite happy to do it for now."
South Africa are due to play seven Tests this summer - two against Sri Lanka, two in Pakistan and three against Australia - before shifting their focus to the short formats ahead of the T20 World Cup. That means de Kock will captain them in as many as 16 matches this season, including three T20Is in Pakistan and three T20Is as well as three ODIs at home against Pakistan, and will also be the first-choice gloveman for the majority of those games.
de Kock indicated he will continue to keep wicket in Tests despite the presence of Kyle Verreynne in the squad but may let someone else take the gloves in the fifty-over format. "I am going to keep wicket. I wasn't going to keep in the ODIs against England. We were going to give someone else a chance and now that I am looking after the Test team, we are looking at ways to get a lot of things off my shoulders," he said. "But in Test cricket, I need to be there as keeper."
He will also need to play a pivotal role in a batting line-up that has very few certainties beyond Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis. Elgar's opening partner is likely to be Aiden Markram, with Sarel Erwee and Raynard van Tonder as back-up. Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Keegan Petersen and Verreynne will compete for three other spots in the top six, with de Kock likely to bat at No. 7.
In that position, he will either have the luxury of adding impetus to an innings with a solid foundation or the task of a repair job with the lower order and it's the latter that he has been doing most recently. For that reason, de Kock needs the specialist batsmen to start making statements that show they belong, especially as there are also four of them - Elgar, Markram, Bavuma and van der Dussen - in the running for the captaincy. "We've got a young team. We need our younger guys to come through and learn fast so we can have a structured team. That's what I would hope for for this season - for the new guys to come in and start scoring runs and putting up their hands," he said.
At least there is finally a cricketing issue for de Kock to worry about.
South Africa's build-up to the series has been chaotic, against the backdrop of England's withdrawal and breaches of the biosecure environment in Cape Town, and with two members of their own squad testing positive for Covid-19 before they convened. The squad returned a full round of negative results on Sunday and will be tested again on Tuesday to confirm they have the all-clear. Until then, they are in a form of quarantine in their hotel rooms. "We can only go get dinner and then go back to the room, for example. And training is done in staggered sessions," de Kock said. "It is a little bit difficult these first two or three days. Once we do our next Covid-19 tests if we all test negative, I'm sure it will go back to normal. Well, normal within the bubble."
That means the South African squad will be able to mix freely but they will continue to keep their distance from Sri Lanka, who are staying at the same venue. "We have been cordoned off from one side of the hotel to the other. We have got our own boundaries that we have to adhere to. We won't be in the same facilities as them. We can see them but there won't be any damage done."
South Africa desperately need this series to take place without incident especially after Cricket Australia confirmed it is keeping an eye on it before deciding if its team will tour South Africa next year. de Kock said the players are aware of the importance of doing whatever they can to ensure the integrity of the bio-bubble is maintained. "We have got that little bit of responsibility, but it's nothing that we can't handle. It's just a small part we can help out in ensuring our future tours go ahead in Covid-19 times. We do the bit we can to make sure our bubble is safe."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent