Twice in three games, Quinton de Kock is left befuddled by Mitchell Starc. The left-arm Aussie seamer lands the ball on a length and swings it away at Wanderers as de Kock goes in search of a stroke only to see his stumps disturbed. At Newlands, he is more circumspect against Starc. He fends at a similar delivery but the result is no different as it goes past his bat’s edge to clatter into the stumps.
Both times de Kock has a very similar reaction. He glances skyward, walks back forlorn, turning back twice or thrice to look at the Aussies celebrating before reluctantly trudging off the ground. It is writ large that he does not want to leave the ground, not in the fashion a school boy would hand over his bat to the next batter, rather like having to leave his three-year old kid at a nursery. Twice in three games, de Kock made single-digit scores and South Africa ended up with double-digit totals, with his mates flopping big time.
“It’s just another blowout,” de Kock had said after the T20 series was lost at Newlands. “Obviously it’s not good enough doing it twice in one series. We are going to have to have a good look at ourselves and ask some honest questions.”
From the baby-faced assassin the Proteas adored, de Kock has become their leader in strife; the boy-turned-man expected to lift them out from the pretty deep well they have dug themselves. It’s less than a month since de Kock assumed permanent captaincy of the South African limited-overs sides.
Like before, he has kept scoring runs, topping their run charts in five of the last six series – five of which they lost – the Proteas have played across formats. Since 2019, he averages 40-plus in each of the three formats and has the most dismissals across formats by any wicket-keeper. He has also played in more international games than all keepers.
In short, de Kock has carried a team that has increasingly appeared well below their standards. With their superstars retiring and their captain coping too much stress and losing form, it was only a matter of time before de Kock was given the mantle of the side. Who else but the one unblemished name in the team sheet would you give it to?
In South African terms, this is the norm. They see a super talented kid and ensure his back is broken with responsibility. Take Jacques Kallis, who was the side’s batting pillar, bowling catalyst, slip fielder, vice-captain and occasional captain.
Or look at AB de Villiers, around whom the team revolved. He assumed captaincy, kept wickets, gave up captaincy, gave up keeping, took a hiatus, and returned to skipper and keep in a four-day Test against Zimbabwe.
Or look at Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada. Markram was the under-19 World Cup winning skipper and Rabada his trusted right arm. Markram was given the national team’s ODI captaincy less than a year since his introduction to international cricket in a big series against India. Naturally, he floundered. Rabada, super-talented and all passion, was asked to bowl like cattle on a paddy field and is now close to a burn out, if not already in the midst of one.
South Africa and blowouts aren’t uncommon. Burdening their superstars is the norm and in less than one month since de Kock taking over the reins, he already seems overburdened despite his initial claims that he enjoys the additional responsibility.
“You guys think it sounds like a lot of work. I’ve been doing it for quite a while now so it becomes second nature. Now with the captaincy, it adds a bit more responsibility to me, which I enjoy. I think I am going to hang on with the keeping and the batting for a while,” de Kock had said before his first series as permanent skipper.
The question is how much longer he can carry on before a blowout. To understand the sheer weight of his waht he is taking up, it is imperative that we dig out some stats. De Kock has skippered the T20I side for only eight matches so far and he is already the only player in the history of T20I cricket in the 105 ICC member nations to take on the treble role – captain, keep, open the batting – and make 100-plus runs.
De Kock has 339 runs at an average of 48.42 with four half-centuries and six dismissals behind the stumps as skipper. No other player has donned the responsibility of captaining, opening the batting and keeping for more than three games in T20Is.
The story isn’t too different in the fabled history of One Dayers either. Only eight players, including de Kock, has donned the treble role; only one for more than 15 matches (Alec Stewart). None of them have lasted long enough or been given the role long enough to make even 700 runs, not even Adam Gilchrist or Andy Flower or Brendon McCullum. Only one with more than 5 matches in this capacity has a 40-plus average – de Kock with 52.80.
“Quinny is unique and I think the uniqueness of him can work wonders in a dressing room like this because we’ve got a unique set-up as well,” Mark Boucher, the head coach, had said during de Kock’s first series as permanent skipper.
De Kock is indeed on his own as he carries on in this multi-dimensional role in limited-overs cricket. That he is in charge of a team in transition further compounds his responsibilities. Right now, unlike his mates, he appears as far away from a blowout as possible. If anything, he has appeared more carefree and in-charge with the bat. But for how much longer, if zilch is the support he gets from his mates?