Pretoria – What more could Quinton de Kock do to further cement his place in the South African one-day team?
That was certainly not the question most viewers had heading into the final Momentum One-Day International here on Wednesday. He represents the long-term future of the South African ODI side. The most popular question was: “Why is De Kock not in the Test squad?”
By all accounts it’s still too early for that. But wasn’t it also too early for his exposure to international cricket in the first place? De Kock’s not in the squad for the two Tests against India, and the only people really glad with that at this stage are the Indians, while De Kock’s coach at the Highveld Lions, Geoffrey Toyana, who, after his side’s defeat in the Sunfoil Series last week, said: “Man, I need the little laaitie back,” such were his side’s batting problems in Kimberley.
A lot’s been made of De Kock’s maturity this past week, and Wednesday’s innings was another display of that trait. The circumstances under which his third century of the series – he is the first player to achieve that feat in this length of series – were certainly tougher than had been the case at the Wanderers and Kingsmead. In both those matches, he partnered Hashim Amla in century stands for the first wicket. However, Wednesday’s innings required even more maturity, toughness and composure than he showed in the first two matches.
There was no century stand with Amla, two wickets fell in one over and Ishant Sharma was in the middle of one of those streaky spells in which everything seemed to flow his way. At 28/3, South Africa were in trouble and De Kock needed to show powers of concentration and resoluteness that would be akin to what batsmen require in a Test match. On top of that he still needed to ensure the run rate ticked over while needing to form a partnership with his captain, AB de Villiers.
De Kock achieved all that – with a bit of luck, as he was dropped twice – but he absorbed the pressure exerted by Sharma and to a lesser extent Mohammed Shami. His 101 came off 120 balls and included nine fours and two sixes.
In the process, De Kock became just the fifth player and the third from South Africa to score centuries in consecutive ODIs. Just two seasons back you couldn’t imagine that level of consistency from him. A shy teenager, he just looked to hit every ball, and the stature of the bowler didn’t matter. In one domestic T20 game in 2011/12 he scored a half-century, taking to Vernon Philander, then still fresh off his remarkable Test debut against the Australians, with disdain.
But good innings followed bad, and his lack of game nous put many off him. There was undoubtedly a lot of talent, as had always been the case since he first started playing against adults at the age of 14, but harnessing that talent on a consistent basis for the benefit of the team was difficult.
De Kock also didn’t care much for fitness or training, which led to a fall-out with SA Under-19 coach Ray Jennings.
However, after making his senior international debut last season, a light went off in his head. In the last off-season, he worked with Toyana and Lions’ assistant coach Gordon Parsons in punishing net sessions.
The benefits of that hard work has been seen in the last month. In eight matches he’s made four centuries, he’s keeping has improved almost beyond recognition. He’ll have to wait until July, when South Africa are scheduled to face Zimbabwe to see if he can become the first player to score four centuries in a row in ODIs. His place in this South African side, however, is very much secured. Be prepared for those calls about a Test spot to grow even louder.
Centuries in consecutive innings
Zaheer Abbas (Pakistan) 1982/83 v India
Saeed Anwar (Pakistan) 1993 v Sri Lanka and West Indies
Herschelle Gibbs (SA) 2002 v Kenya, India and Bangladesh
AB de Villiers (SA) 2010 v India and West Indies
Quinton de Kock (SA) 2013 v India