De Kock almost in full bloom
Rassie van der Dussen is an honest competitor. He will play sensibly, run hard, and contribute significantly.
Faf du Plessis, well, is Faf du Plessis. He is the skipper, the leader of men, and significantly under-rated as a white-ball batsman.
But De Kock is the one Proteas willow-wielder who would have a bowler standing at the top of his mark questioning his personal worth.
All the greats had that aura. Sir Vivian Richards had bowlers tossing and turning for nights before an encounter with the legendary West Indian.
Former Proteas swing bowler, and current Afghanistan bowling coach Charl Langeveldt, often told me in private discussions about how it was always a mental battle facing Australian maestro Ricky Ponting.
AB de Villiers had that hallowed glow, too. Due to his audacious stroke play and that unique ability to smash the ball 360-degrees, bowlers were left traumatised. They often relented before the contest had even started.
De Kock doesn’t believe he is at that level yet, saying “everyone would love to be like AB, but unfortunately there is only one guy going around like that at the moment, and he is playing for England”, referring to the enigmatic Jos Buttler.
But the South African opening batsman does indeed have a bullseye locked on him here in the United Kingdom. And he knows it.
Fortunately for South Africa, he is embracing the challenge.
“Obviously I feel that at the moment,” De Kock said. “But I quite enjoy it, that I am the guy they need to get out. It gives me that extra responsibility that I must take on.”
The assuredness of the response is refreshing. A South African at an ICC World Cup willing to tackle pressure head on.
Even more thought-provoking, however, was one word De Kock used: responsibility. That term has never been associated with South Africa’s top gun. Reckless. Wild. Perhaps even juvenile. All of them at once sometimes. But responsible? C’mon this must be a case of mistaken identity.
This is the guy who quit high school to pursue the most fickle of careers, that of being a professional sportsman. The same guy that taunts people - admittedly justified because it was David Warner - to the extent that virtual physical confrontations break out on staircases.
And now he’s talking about being responsible. What happened to the “see-ball, hit ball” approach that has always worked so wonderfully?
The desire for De Kock to grow up, to mature, has always been there, but not at the expense of his instinctive feel for the game. Thursday’s roaring opener showed that any pure maverick doesn’t just throw away his natural instincts simply because he gets older.
De Kock welcomed England all-rounder Moeen Ali to the World Cup with a booming six over long-off, and generously extended his arms to carve Liam Plunkett almost all the way out by the Alex Stewart Gates.
But with the Yin comes the Yang. With the run-chase delicately poised, De Kock whipped one off his pads down Ali’s throat at long leg.
“The way I got out, that was frustrating. I have a plan in my head, but then a certain ball gets bowled and it just comes, perhaps it’s reflexes, I guess,” De Kock explained it almost like a Marvel Superhero that battles to suppress his special powers.
“It is something I work on. One day I can get out, and the next ball I can hit for six. It is all about managing it. I am still working on it.”
But with the organisers of this World Cup intent on luring young people back to the game - and it certainly felt so with the amount of marketing activations within The Oval aimed at all the children that made their way on the tube down to the south of London on Thursday - there is that feeling that De Kock needs to do something extraordinary every time he is at the crease.
Even more so after failing to impress at the global jamboree four years ago in Australia, where he averaged just 20. That’s not his motivation, though.
“I am not coming here to be a superhero. We have spoken in the team that we don’t need superheroes. We just need guys to come in and do their jobs. If everyone just had to come in and do their jobs, it would hold us in good stead going forward. We’re just going to look to play good cricket to get us over the line,” he explained.
For that to happen, more often than not De Kock may well just have to put on his cape.@ZaahierAdams