Sport

Quinton de Kock and the great selection debate

By Antoinette Muller 12 December 2013

Quinton de Kock has become a househould name in South African cricket. Yes, circumstances have helped, but the inevitable questions and murmurs about him as a Test player are starting to crop up. ANTOINETTE MULLER ponders if the tree grows as the branch bends.

When there were first mutterings of Quinton de Kock being called up to the national teams, two camps were formed. In the red corner were those filled with excitement and in the other there was the ones urging caution and patience and a little bit of resistance. In the latter camp sat his coach at Under-19 level, Ray Jennings. Jennings and De Kock had many disagreements, mostly with his discipline and dedication to work and Jennings became the sort of “rent a quote” for anyone who had an agenda against De Kock being called up to the national team, in any format. His Under-19 coach would always sing the same song: he’s not ready for international cricket, no chance at all.

That was just over a year ago and at the time, Jennings was right to an extent. De Kock, although supremely talented, was happy to just be talented. It’s easy to ride the train of talent, but it’s only going to take so far before you have to start piling on the coals to keep you going. De Kock realised that after South Africa’s tour to Sri Lanka when he looked at sea against spin and out of sorts at international level. Collectively, South Africans must have been tutting and thinking: oh dear, another overhyped one.

De Kock, though, for all his rebellion and his sometimes struggles with authority, knew that he’d have to step it up.

“I knew that talent wouldn’t get me all the way, I knew I’d have to work hard,” has been his standard response when asked what changed between him making his debut and where he is now. Since the tour of Pakistan, De Kock has scored four centuries, he’s scored more runs that any South African in 16 innings and the most for anyone in a three-match series. His overall ODI averaged has jumped to 46.31 and in the nine games since Sri Lanka, he averages 67.66. He’s taken 19 catches, too. From a cursory glance, it might be said that De Kock is a prodigy. A prodigy with a wild streak, but all prodigies have a wild streak.

Now that prodigy’s streak has reached a curious crossroads. The inevitable questions about his readiness for Test cricket are staring to pop up and, perhaps, rightly so. There is place for him in the Test set-up, of course. At the top of the order Alviro Petersen has been in dubious form and hasn’t passed the 30-run mark for ages while lower down, Faf du Plessis has had his struggles, too. De Kock has shown that he can adapt. Against India in the rained out game on Wednesday, he was out in the middle with his team 28-3. His usual batting musketeer had departed and he was out in the middle with his skipper, AB de Villiers. Instead of an overtly aggressive approach, De Kock slowed down the pace. He played the situation and although he still got out with a foolish heave after going on to make his third century in a row, he showed character and maturity completely unlikely in a 20-year-old.

Although the sample size of his abilities have been limited, the early signs are there that De Kock could very well be the real deal. Yes, his efforts have been helped by some devastatingly mediocre bowling from India, but when it is more broadly assessed, all signs are pointing towards De Kock being ready for a call-up.

The selectors haven’t showed hints of his inclusion yet. The South African Test squad to play India is unchanged for the two-match series against India and, perhaps, rightly so. De Kock will have a chance to go back to playing some first-class cricket and work on his temperament and patience. He’ll get to work on his ability to construct an innings – not that he needs much work in that regard – but the longest format of the game is different beast.

However, players across the world have shown that even they are borne from the attacking mould of cricket, they can make it work. David Warner, although sometimes hit and miss – is one of the players from that kind of generation. Even Kevin Pietersen, with his sheer disregard for rules, has shown that it is possible to be a square peg in a round hole.

Being “ready” for Test cricket is a manufactured and shallow phrase, because it is rarely possible these days to tell if somebody is truly ready for international cricket of any format until that player has been there. De Kock’s selection to the Test squad should not rest on the kind of player he is, but rather how his selection would allow him to slot into the side.

If there is no certainty that he will get to play, there is no point in selecting him at the moment, not if there is a chance for him to play more cricket on the domestic circuit. The senior players in the limited overs squads would have rubbed off on him already and to waste time he could be spending and, knowing his dedication to his craft, would prefer spending playing cricket, would be a foolish waste of time.

There is a home Test series against Australia around the corner and with the Aussies looking reinvigorated in their on-going Ashes campaign, it would be a unprecedented kind of progressiveness from selectors to include him for that tour. It’s during the conclusion of South Africa’s domestic four-day competition and conservatism would suggest he might need another season, even two. He could even do with a season away playing county cricket. That conservative approach towards selection often finds itself sticking to opinions and preconceived ideas like Blackjacks. Logic and the current climate of selection has gone against the traditional way of thinking. If a player shows potential and a natural ability, if he works hard, if he is surrounded by talented players, it’s worth experimenting.

Once the series against India is done and dusted and some weaknesses persist, especially lower down the order, South Africa could do worse than trying out De Kock batting at six or seven. Yes, experience against a side like Australia will be invaluable, but the current South African Test side has the luxury of a wealth of experience surrounding it. Failure might be the outcome, but De Kock is not one to be discouraged or bogged down by failure; quite the opposite, he’s encouraged by it.

As the proverb goes: when you lie on thorns while young, you’ll lie on roses while you’re old. And what’s wrong with a plucking a few thorns out of your body when you’ve only just turned 21? DM

Photo: Quinton de Kock plays India’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar delivery during their first One-Day International (ODI) in Johannesburg December 5 2013. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

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