Quinton de Kock is finally showing signs that he has what it takes to cut it at international level. During South Africa’s tour of the UAE, he’s looked a different player to the one who made his debut almost a year ago. It’s all down to some good old-fashioned hard work. So much hard work that his coaches want to run away when they see him. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
About a year and a half ago, when Quinton de Kock had just been thrust onto the spotlight, he did an interview with Sports Illustrated where he said he didn’t really like talking about cricket. Instead, he preferred to talk about fishing.
De Kock was much talked about at the time. As one of the most explosive batsmen on the scene, even with just a few games under his belt, comparisons were being made between De Kock and Mark Boucher.
De Kock, like Boucher, was young and feisty, and although his experience was limited, he looked like he was a diamond in the rough. South Africa were searching for a new wicketkeeper, preferably one with the gonads to hit balls for miles. De Kock had earned himself that reputation and in a country with a penchant for clinging onto whatever hype is circulating, expectation came sitting on De Kock’s shoulders like a ton of bricks.
His exploits with the Under-19 South African team were impressive enough to earn it. In January 2011, he was crowned man of the T20 series when the Zimbabwe under 19’s visited the country. He played just two games, but scored 151 runs, including an unbeaten 102. He followed that up with a visit to England later in 2011, where he’d rack up 341 runs in seven games at an average of 48.71, including three fifties, five catches and four stumpings.
When Pakistan’s Under-19s came to visit at the start of 2012, he was man of the one-day series again. In three games, he scored 156, at an average of 52.00. The merry-go round of runs continued for the young man and during the Under-19 World Cup in 2012, he scored 284 runs in six games at an average of 47.33.
Those efforts, along with his exploits on the domestic scene, were enough to earn him his debut against New Zealand in December 2012. There was nothing special about his international arrival and he was well below average in both formats. The hype which surrounded him was slowly but surely losing its air.
Over the coming months, he would play seven ODIs in which he averaged 18.85 and passed the 30 mark just once. In T20s, it was a similar story. In the six games he played, he only got past 20 once and looked completely at sea when it came to constructing an innings.
South Africa’s recent tour to Sri Lanka was De Kock’s real wake-up call. The 20-year-old has never really had to work that hard to get where he wants. His natural talent has been enough to allow him to just get by and at the time when the hype so heavily surrounded him his Under-19 coach Ray Jennings issued caution around getting too excited. He didn’t think De Kock was ready for international cricket just yet.
Perhaps he wasn’t, but the youngster has realised that international cricket isn’t easy, and if he wants to make it work for him, he’ll need to put in the extra effort. His coach at the Lions, Geoff Toyana, has nurtured a young talent, but shies away from taking all of the credit and insists the dawn of realisation came from De Kock himself.
“When he started in international cricket, he didn’t do too well, and when he came back from those first few stints of international cricket, he realised he has to work harder,” Toyana told The Daily Maverick.
“Whether that’s putting in an extra two hours with throw downs or just working on his fitness, he’s really taken a lot of responsibility to get his game right.”
Those efforts are now starting to pay off. Currently on tour with the Proteas in the United Arab Emirates, De Kock scored his maiden ODI ton last week, and although he still has a long way to go, the fruits of his labour are starting to show.
Toyana admits that De Kock’s work ethic has been slack in the past, mostly because he possessed enough natural talent to get by, but international cricket is a different ball game and the 20-year old has realised that.
“He’s a joy to work with these days. His work ethic has lacked in the past, but in the last four or five months, he’s been superb. I’ve known him since he was 16 and he’s worked harder than I have ever seen him work lately. It was upon him to do the work and he’s done it,” Toyana said.
“It’s reached a stage now where, every time myself and my assistant coach see Quinton, we want to run away because we know he’s going to make us work for an extra two or three hours at least,” the coach joked.
Nurturing him as a talent is something which has always been part of the culture at the Lions, but you can only take a horse to water and it was up to De Kock to drink – and he has. He’s realised what his weaknesses are and he’s gone back to square one to work on them.
Spin was something De Kock was particularly uncertain against. In Sri Lanka, he had little trouble picking the faster bowlers, but as soon as a spinner was brought on, he lost it. After his return from the tour, De Kock went back to basics and spent every day from 8am to 11am with Toyana and the other coaching staff working on an approach to facing spin. Although he still hasn’t cracked it entirely, his franchise coach isn’t surprised that he’s started to show some aptitude against the twirlers.
“We worked really hard with him on his technique against spin and I’m not surprised at the way in which he played Pakistan’s spinners. He’s done the work and it’s paid off,” said Toyana.
In the four ODIs De Kock played against Pakistan, he scored 189 runs at an average of 47.25 and he hit a handy, unbeaten 48 on Wednesday to help seal a nine-wicket win for South Africa in the first T20. Although he still has a long way to go, the signs are there that De Kock is a much improved and very much a changed player to the one who made his debut almost year ago. If his evolution continues along with his work, then maybe, just maybe, he’ll actually enjoy talking about cricket sometime soon. DM
Photo: Quinton de Kock plays a shot during their first T20 international cricket match against Pakistan in Dubai. (REUTERS/Nikhil Monteiro)
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