Cape Town – Sooner rather than later, South Africans may see 21-year-old Quinton de Kock given the chance to grow himself into a Proteas Test-level answer to Australian crowd-pleaser of the recent past Adam Gilchrist.
The left-handed wicketkeeper/batsman from Down Under had a stellar 96-Test career for the Baggy Greens – usually the dominant global force at the time – between 1999 and 2008, not only doing the glovework with aplomb but excelling as a lower middle-order strokeplayer, sometimes with thunderous effect against attacks already demoralised by luminary batsmen higher up the Aussie order.
South Africa’s wicketkeeping duty in the post-Mark Boucher era has been slightly different to the Gilchrist model because it has been handled by AB de Villiers, one of the Test side’s key run-scorers and a top-fiver in the order.
But the multi-talented De Villiers is thought to be the front-runner to replace long-serving Graeme Smith as five-day captain, on top of his responsibilities as one-day international skipper.
Cricket South Africa insists the “new captain” process will only be completed in early June, although in an interview with Firdose Moonda of www.espncricinfo.com published on Friday, De Villiers sounds notably chipper about his prospects.
“I am certainly ready to take over the Test captaincy,” he is quoted as saying. “I would love to do it.
“It’s up to the people above me to decide who will be the best guy for the job.”
But he also appears to confirm what many have long suspected: that if he does get appointed, he will wish to ditch the gloves.
“Preferably I wouldn’t like to do the ‘keeping job if I am captain ... it will be very difficult to juggle all (his responsibilities) together.”
That may well be music to the ears of the hugely talented – albeit that he still has plenty of rough edges in all departments – De Kock, who already keeps wicket for the SA limited-overs sides efficiently and would help keep the critical batting department healthy-looking, particularly as Jacques Kallis’s Test retirement has affected the balance of the XI.
Frankly, it is difficult to see how another candidate behind the stumps, Thami Tsolekile, could justifiably be handed the role without harming the structural balance of a team desperate to recapture the No 1 ranking from Australia.
There have been various occasions in recent years, it is true, that Tsolekile, a fine gloveman and feisty but short-of-top-notch batsman, has arguably deserved to add to his mere three Test caps, the last of which was almost 10 years ago against England in a defeat at St George’s Park.
But the Lions stalwart turns 34 in October, and his first-class career batting average of below 30 hardly fits in with the modern trend worldwide to favour ‘keepers who can double as fully-fledged batsmen at the very highest level.
His selection would, of course, greatly assist CSA politically as they are under enormous pressure – and understandably, to a large degree – to bring through black African players to the national sides; it has stayed a problematic area more than two decades after unity.
Yet future planning of the five-day team surely needs to start immediately, given the gradual stepping-down of several Test veterans, and De Kock (first-class batting average 47) ticks several boxes for aiding the cause.
For one thing, he already boasts four centuries from just 16 ODIs, and seems tailor-made to start finding his feet as a Test player around the No 6 or 7 slot in the order, a la the iconic Gilchrist, as he has a similar enterprising approach.
If De Villiers does get the leadership nod in two or three weeks and simultaneously surrenders the gloves, it makes sense for him to move up a place henceforth to the No 4 berth vacated by the trusty Kallis.
That gives South Africa their best two batsmen by reputation at Nos 3 and 4 respectively, in Hashim Amla and De Villiers.
Admittedly at fairly long range, this writer would like to see a combination very close to this one take to the field for the first Test in Sri Lanka in July (in batting order): Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing