Cape Town – Quinton de Kock may be mildly ruing his “precautionary rest” from the victorious KFC Twenty20 mini-series against England.
The young left-handed batsman/wicketkeeper watched from the sidelines again as the Proteas completed a 2-0 sweep with a crushing nine-wicket triumph at the Wanderers on Sunday, completed with more than five overs to spare.
South Africa’s management had the bigger-picture needs of the looming ICC World Twenty20 in India in mind when they revealed that he would play no part in the series to allow an ongoing knee problem a better opportunity to fully remedy itself.
De Kock, 23, has been sensational at the top of the order for the Proteas in one-day international cricket, where he has already plundered 10 centuries -- two of those were big, commanding ones against the English very recently.
By extension, he seems a particularly attractive option to open at the global T20 tournament.
But first De Kock has to secure a return berth ... he is hampered by the fact that, in his absence, older hands AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla reigned supreme at the Bullring, posting 125 for the first wicket in only 8.2 overs as they brutally demoralised the English attack.
De Villiers registered a national record-time half-century en route to 71 off 29 eventful balls, and Amla dispelled any suggestions that he may a tad “stodgy” for the shortest format by lashing a personal career-best unbeaten 69 off 38 deliveries.
They had also got the country off to a brisk start in the immensely tighter first encounter at Newlands on Friday night, whilst captain Faf du Plessis has contributed decently from the No 3 position with scores of 25 and then a brisk 22 not out at the Wanderers to help see SA over the line with plenty to spare.
“Won’t they just keep it the same?” asked SuperSport commentator Kepler Wessels, not unreasonably, when colleague Mpumelelo Mbangwa suggested a fit (all going well) De Kock might still have to be accommodated at the top when Australia visit shortly for the last “warm-up” series ahead of the World T20.
Wessels would have been basing his argument around the tried and trusted principle of not tampering too hastily with a winning formula, thus ensuring that at least at the outset of the three-game challenge against the Aussies, the top-three status quo of De Villiers, Amla and Du Plessis should prevail.
Yet visiting commentator and former England captain Nasser Hussain had strong thoughts about who he thought the all-important front three should be for South Africa at T20 level: “There’s your top three (Amla, De Kock, De Villiers) ... play them in any order.”
Of course by Hussain’s formula, that would mean the skipper falling out of the up-front trio, although he implied that by Du Plessis possibly batting at four, middle-order incumbents like JP Duminy, David Miller and Rilee Rossouw might be “looking over a shoulder” in the belief that one of their spots will soon be in jeopardy.
It is a conundrum, given that Du Plessis has almost always operated at “first drop” for the Proteas in T20 cricket and been very successful – he averages a shade under 40 at a strike rate of 131.52, better than any of the other candidates for the top three.
Only twice in 28 internationals has he been the No 4, although on the first occasion he scored 65 against India in 2012.
It is often argued that a team’s best (or read: potentially most destructive) three batsmen should get in as quickly as possible in the frantic T20 environment, so on that basis coach Russell Domingo and company have to decide which of an impressive quartet of applicants they think best suited to filling berths one, two and three.
Certainly De Villiers is relishing opening at present, saying in his man-of-the-match interview on Sunday: “I really enjoy it. You get value for your strokes up the order. I hope it is where I bat at the (World T20).”
The Twenty20 international landscape has been strangely less kind over the years to the Titans star than Tests or ODIs from a statistical point of view, but he has registered half-centuries in two of his last four knocks as an opener, suggesting he may have found his most suitable positional home at last.
But if you are going to play that pedigreed cricketer Amla in T20 matches, it almost certainly has to be at the very top; he has never batted anywhere else in 32 Proteas appearances.
He will always be valuable in Subcontinent conditions, given his wristy qualities and the general sense of serenity and stability he provides to the cause.
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