South Africa, Sport

Cricket: Quinton de Kock as a Test opener, an idea worth padding up for

Cricket: Quinton de Kock as a Test opener, an idea worth padding up for

Keeping wicket and opening the batting is not something that happens in Test cricket. Very few players have done so in the sport’s history and only one who did scored more than 1,500 runs and more than 20 Tests. But that doesn’t mean it should be discounted as a short-term solution for Quinton de Kock in the not too distant future. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

I’ll stay at six or seven, thanks.”

That was Quinton de Kock’s assessment of the prospect of being promoted up the batting order in future, right after he’d done a sterling job for South Africa on day one of the second Test against New Zealand. But De Kock might have just batted himself into the role of perhaps taking the gloves off and opening in future.

So successful were De Kock and Stephen Cook that the pair managed to clobber together South Africa’s first century partnership for the opening wicket since 2013.

Wicketkeepers, more than anyone else on the field, take a tremendous toll. They do about 480 squats a day and have to stay completely focused for every single ball. If they make a mistake, no matter how small, it’s not easily forgotten like a bad shot or a bad ball. It’s a horrible job. Nobody in their right mind should want to do it.

Fortunately, De Kock is not a player in his right mind. How can you possibly be when you are such an exceptionally talented freak like he is? Despite protestations (including from these pages) that he lacks the temperament of a Test player, he has certainly done his bit to prove that he is more than capable of holding his own in all formats of the game. So prodigal is he that on Monday he became just the fourth ever wicket-keeper opening the batting in a Test to score a 50 in both innings – and it was only the first time he’d had a crack at it.

England’s Richard Spooner, India’s Farokh Engineer and Pakistan’s Kamran Akmal are the other players to have achieved this feat. While two out of three names on that list might not exactly be footsteps for young De Kock to follow in, Engineer’s presence is of interest.

Engineer was by far the most successful Test wicket-keeper to open the batting in runs scored. In 26 matches filling both these rolls, Engineer scored 1,577 runs at an average of 32.85. No other player in Tests managed more than 1,000 Test runs while performing both roles. This was an exceptional achievement made even more so by the fact that playing the dual roles of keeper/opener is simply not something that happens in the Test format.

Since 1998, not a single Test player has donned the gloves and opened the batting in more than seven Tests. The last to do so was India’s Nayan Mongia who kept and opened in 15 out of his 44 Tests and scored 655 runs at an average of 27.29 taking on the dual role. Before that, we have to go back to Engineer’s efforts in the 1960s and 1970s to find somebody who did both in more than 10 Tests. In the history of the game, just one player (Engineer) doubled up in more than 20 Tests. Just three (Imtiaz Ahmed, Mongia and John White) did so in more than 10 Tests.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the dual role has almost always been an exclusive one-off. There is a largely held belief that the recovery time between innings (10 minutes) after spending long periods doing squats and the needing to go out and bat just isn’t enough. Alec Stuart, who took on both roles for England in seven Tests, has said he “doesn’t recommend it”.

But, here’s the thing: how will we know if nobody has really tried it in recent times?

Sports science has advanced tremendously since the days of yore and teams are becoming far smarter in how they condition their players. Gone are the days when merely pumping iron is a way forward. Now we have functional fitness and diets to match. Everything that is a controllable is controlled in order to ensure optimal performance. Sure, it’s still a tough gig, but chances are it’s much less difficult than it used to be.

The ability to adapt to playing a dual role surely also depends highly on a player. De Kock is an enigma who can trundle off after keeping wicket all day and come back and whack the ball around like he has turned into the Hulk, as he did in South Africa’s second innings. He’s hardly one to sit around overanalysing his performances with the gloves if he has the opportunity to knock a ball around. If sports science has caught up to assist with recovery, the idea to get De Kock to do both surely isn’t entirely preposterous?

By no means is this to suggest that this is a long-term sustainable solution. Dean Elgar is of course still the incumbent, but let’s not be so quick to dismiss the possibility of De Kock stepping in as an opener in the future – say when Cook retires – to serve as a stopgap solution while a specialist keeper is groomed. DM

Photo: Cricket – New Zealand v South Africa, second cricket test match, Centurion Park, Centurion, South Africa – 29/8/2016. South Africa’s Quinton de Kock falls after playing a shot.

Scorecard summary:

  • South Africa lead by 372 runs with four wickets remaining
  • South Africa 481/8d (Faf du Plessis 112*, Neil Wagner 5/86) and 105/6 (Quinton de Kock 50, Tim Southee 2/27)
  • New Zealand 214 all out (Kane Williamson 77, Dale Steyn 3/66)

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