Cape Town – The next time they play Test matches, the
Proteas will encounter once more a certain, muscling left-handed opening
batsman named David Warner.
That is when they tackle Australia in three away Tests in
November, and Warner will look to improve further on his already ominously good
five-day record against them – in six prior encounters, he averages 68.09,
including four centuries.
The combative man from New South Wales specialises in
demoralising bowlers as quickly as he can, irrespective of whether they are
charging in with the aid of a gleaming new ball.
On Saturday, South Africa presented for the first time a
potential counter – also of the left-handed variety – to Warner’s attacking
spirit at the front of the order.
Quinton de Kock eagerly volunteered himself, apparently, to
fill a late opening void left by Dean Elgar (ankle injury in pre-match
training) for the decisive second Test against New Zealand at SuperSport Park.
His move several notches up the order kept the useful
left-right dynamic alive for the Proteas, of course, as he teamed up with
Stephen Cook for the first time, although he instantly offered a contrasting
style to Elgar’s nuggety, scrapping qualities.
De Kock, like Warner, boasts instincts veering much more
toward the dashing, and after the Black Caps won the toss and took the far from
obvious decision to insert their opponents – it flew in the face of recent
history showing huge, 450-plus totals by the side batting first – a swift
examination of his technique and temperament was assured.
Bear in mind that, in his more customary lower middle-order
position in the weather-curtailed first Test at Kingsmead, the 23-year-old had
fallen irresponsibly to a front-of-wicket skied catch after appearing tidily
set for a major knock.
Here, though he produced an excellent combination of
watchfulness and bravado, treating deliveries on their merits as he helped the
more conservative but pleasingly comfortable Cook to amass a partnership of 133
(SA’s best at the top in more than two years) from 38.5 overs, De Kock
providing the lion’s share with his crisp 82 off 114 deliveries.
It set the tone superbly for a broadly productive,
workmanlike day by the Proteas, who had reached 283 for three at stumps with
Hashim Amla and the previously embattled JP Duminy also posting half-centuries
– and the latter still in a position to blossom further on day two.
It would be tough on Elgar if he suddenly found himself in
an unexpected wilderness after personal mishap, and it is probably not going to
happen … not yet, anyway.
But it would also not have escaped some judges’ notice that
in many ways Cook and De Kock are an even better foil for each other than
Cook-Elgar, given that De Kock provides a near-guarantee of run-rate momentum virtually
from the “off” whereas the other two are both more inclined to have the
proverbial good look at the bowling before they become more expressive.
There is sure to be a lobby suggesting that if De Kock can
be so devastating at times as an opener in one-day internationals – all of his
10 centuries there have come from that berth – then his ball-bruising abilities
could be similarly put to good use in Test combat.
The biggest reservation, nevertheless, surrounds the fact
that he is also the team’s wicketkeeper and it is not considered best practice,
the world over, for a player to both open the batting and stand behind the
stumps in the long-format game.
South Africa have not activated this strategy since distant
1965, when then-gloveman Denis Lindsay opened the batting in two Tests on the
tour of England that year.
So in his last five Tests, De Kock had instead been the
designated No 7, where he was expected to help be a powerful “finisher”
assuming those above him had provided a solid enough platform to facilitate
But what he certainly did on Saturday -- before a pleasingly
healthy, spring sun-loving crowd -- was at least serve notice that opening is
among future options for him in the most traditional form of the game.
His success in an “emergency” capacity also won him back
some laurels from hard-to-please SuperSport commentator and former national
captain Kepler Wessels, who had lambasted the rashness of his exit in Durban.
“It’s a good characteristic that he took the bull by the
horns and asked to open,” enthused Wessels.
“If you’re going to open, you must be a willing one (in the
role). He could easily just have said ‘I’m keeping … I will stay at No 7,
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