Cape Town – Yes, his returns at the crease keep dipping below expectations and he seems strategically confused and unusually angst-laden.
But it would also be extremely ill-advised if the Proteas bowed to inevitable, mounting sentiment – perhaps more from sections of the public than seasoned pundits at this point, mind – to axe Quinton de Kock from the currently embattled Test side.
He is one of the prime figures most in the firing line, it seems, from enthusiasts understandably disgruntled by the 2-0 away capitulation to moderate Sri Lanka.
A two-Test, four-innings series average of 13.25 is always likely to be fuel for critics and, not unrelated to the vexing decision of whether to play back or forward against devious Subcontinental spinners, De Kock has also increasingly looked betwixt and between when it comes to balancing his instinctively attacking play with the need for solid defence and due vigilance at times.
In fairness, De Kock wasn’t the worst frontline SA batsman in a dreadful series for their craft: Dean Elgar managed just 12.25, and both Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram a miserable 10.00.
Maybe the hovering presence of a second wicketkeeper-batsman in the touring squad, Heinrich Klaasen, went some way to explaining the restlessness over De Kock’s place in the side.
What we know for sure, if we didn’t already, is that the Proteas have a glaring, collective problem when it comes to nous, application and technical competence when faced by street-smart spinners in Asian conditions.
But it is also a fact, and one that will spark some relief – at least until the tour of India in late 2019 – that the national team won’t have to play Test cricket in environments remotely like those just experienced for some time.
They should stabilise quite nicely (it is still only a few months since they so pleasingly disposed of both the Indians and Australia in home series; memories can be so short) when Pakistan and Sri Lanka visit our shores this summer and a particularly vehement call is likely from the Proteas camp for tracks that quite markedly assist seam bowling.
It is perhaps only if the SA batting looks unacceptably shaky all over again then, that sweeping changes should be considered.
Form by various non-Proteas stroke-players in the Sunfoil Series should admittedly be of special interest in 2018/19.
A strong personal feeling is that De Kock, who also still has relative youth on his side at 25, is just too naturally talented (and already so proven, in surer times for him) to stay in the batting doldrums indefinitely.
There is still a reasonable chance, too, that he might banish some of his Asian demons during the imminent limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, where pitches may prove truer and slightly less spin-friendly than evidenced in the Galle and Colombo SSC Tests.
Klaasen remains thereabouts: he is also in the one-day party and rightly so, given his encouraging flashes of enterprise and authority against India with the blade in the home ODIs last season, when he was a rookie ray of light in a “difficult” series lost 5-1.
The likeliest scenario in his case is that he will get further chances in Sri Lanka purely as a middle-order batsman, with De Kock still very much in the top-of-the-order plans.
For all his recent Test difficulties with the willow, “Quinny” has largely remained in sprightly batting form in the 50-overs landscape for the Proteas.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that there is rising cause for concern over his underwhelming batting in the five-day game.
It had all started so encouragingly for the then-wunderkind in early 2014, and within 23 innings in the game’s most time-honoured environment he had already rattled up three centuries.
In a reflection of how things have dimmed for him subsequently, the left-hander has not managed a further three-figure score in as many as 35 further turns at the crease; his last 25 innings have produced only two fifties, into the dubious bargain.
But De Kock remains a more productive contributor in SA-specific conditions (1,072 runs from 20 Tests at an average of a fraction under 40), and those are what he will operate in for the whole looming season at Test level.
With AB de Villiers so regrettably, permanently off the scene now, South Africa look even shorter than they were before on players capable of taking a game away from the opposition, regardless of format.
De Kock, at his best, can do that; we already know as much.
And here’s another thing: ditch De Kock and you are arguably – and irresponsibly? – stripping the Proteas XI of the best and most consistently error-free wicketkeeper, in all conditions, in the world right now.
That includes his admirable tidiness in the demanding landscape (both pitch- and weather-related) of SA’s otherwise disastrous Sri Lankan Test series.
No, we can’t afford to sacrifice him from the Test cause.
Certainly not yet, anyway.
A really pressing need to do so?
That may never actually come, you know …
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