The Proteas were relieved to see that Quinton de Kock was over his finger injury scare. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, Backpagepix
The Proteas assembled at Houghton Golf Club, of all places this last week, to mark the official ending of one international campaign, and the beginning of another. One by one, they reacquainted with familiar faces they hadn’t seen in weeks and months.

In a way, it was like a scene from Ocean’s Eleven – or Twelve, or even Thirteen – as they came from their respective patches of the country and huddled once more for the next big job. AB’s Eleven, perhaps.

There was Dale Steyn, glint back in the eye after too much time away from everything. Not far from him was the Million Dollar Man, Chris Morris, as loud as he is long, greeting everyone in sight. There, too, was Kagiso Rabada, looking fresh after his working holiday in Delhi.

The new kids on the block, Andile Phehlukwayo and Keshav Maharaj, formed a unique duo on and off the golf course. It was a curious case of the blind leading the blind as they got to grips with convincing a little white ball to behave in a manner approaching the control they exert on slightly bigger white balls.

Vernon Philander, who hits a golf ball as long as most people go on holiday, could probably teach the young pups a thing or two, as could multi-talented AB de Villiers, whose swing shows no sign of wear and tear.

They were all there, even the non-golfing conglomerate of Amla, Tahir and Du Plessis, who quaffed tea and stayed indoors, well away from the Jozi chill. “Never interested me,” Imran Tahir explained of a pastime that goes against the grain of his exuberant manner on a sports arena.

And there, amidst the reunions, was the one face that everyone was relieved to see in fine fettle. Quinton de Kock, bandage-free and worry-free, bounced into the room with all the chutzpah of a man who has just come off a honeymoon.

Someone chirped that he had been missed by Delhi. Of course he was, because no team in world cricket would say no to his ridiculous range of skills.

The fish in Knysna bore the brunt of his injury frustrations as he watched his mates play in the IPL and waited for his finger to get back to full health. The evidence from the golf course, at least, suggests that he is fully over his index finger scare.

He returned to the clubhouse with three birdies, and no shortage of tall stories about what else could have been. More than the birdies, De Kock was to end the weekend with even more gongs from Cricket South Africa’s awards soiree.

It has become a familiar habit for someone to completely dominate the evening that reflects on what has gone before. Hashim Amla has done it, as has AB de Villiers. Last term, Rabada helped himself to six gongs in one night, emphasising his rise to superstar quality.

De Kock, of course, is in that exclusive category, too. His ICC award for one-day player of the year had already reiterated that, but the effusive praise this weekend was from closer to home, and it was as fulsome as the relief over his fitness.

He is a game-changer, and the next month will see him and the rest of AB’s Eleven go after that elusive pot of international tournament gold. On the evidence of the past year, they are in with a terrific chance.

It is a team in a very good place, and they know that history beckons in England. And De Kock, with his full range of skills, may well be the man who pickpockets the keys to that success.

Sunday Tribune

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