Johannesburg - Ten years ago, after Ricky Januarie’s last-minute try got the Springboks that famous win against the All Blacks at the old “House of Pain” in Dunedin, Jean de Villiers showed up at the post-match interview as Bok skipper.
The reason De Villiers was thrust into the spotlight was that Victor Matfield, who had taken over the captaincy from the injured John Smit, had pulled up lame late in the game, leaving the team’s “new” vice-captain to lap up the plaudits in the media conference after less than five minutes of captaincy.
Ever handy with a chirp, De Villiers - tongue firmly in cheek - asked the South African media: “Is it safe to say I’m the first Springbok captain to win in New Zealand in 10 years?”
Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock found himself in a similar situation in the third one-day international (ODI) against Sri Lanka last Sunday, after regular skipper Faf du Plessis was ruled out for the rest of the game - and the series - due to a shoulder injury sustained early in the final innings.
As with De Villiers, the Proteas won the game - and the series - under De Kock’s stewardship. This made for interesting viewing and subsequent reading because of the disbelief that greeted the news that he, and not Hashim Amla or JP Duminy, had taken over from Du Plessis.
The TV commentators took some convincing, while the general public’s reaction was encapsulated by a tweet that read: “Please can someone appoint a new vice-captain, before the day comes that Quinton has to divide 50 overs by five bowlers in his head.”
More bemusement lay in wait for cricket lovers the country over the time Proteas coach Ottis Gibson went against the public grain and made De Kock the captain for the remaining two games of the series, ahead of captain-in-waiting Aiden Markram.
“I have always found Quinton to have a good cricket brain; he understands the game,” said Gibson.
“He is constantly helping the captain on the field, and he shows good leadership on the field even as a normal player.”
While we sniggered knowingly into our beers at both the developments and Gibson’s logic, De Kock took his simple (some might say simplistic) and relaxed approach to captaincy, barely putting a foot wrong in finishing the first game as the leader.
Hell, he even won the toss in the fourth ODI, something Du Plessis had all but given up on in the tour of Sri Lanka.
Our reaction, based on seeing how ill at ease De Kock is with a microphone in his face, shows that, to some extent, we have become leadership snobs.
By the looks of it, having the likes of Francois Pienaar, John Smit, Graeme Smith and Du Plessis deftly handle the complexities of leading South African teams has convinced us that we need diplomats in those roles and not simple players.
De Kock is considered to be a cricketing genius with bat in hand and wicketkeeping gloves on, so why would he suddenly need to be a rocket scientist to lead a cricket team? A lot of the IQ tests we’ve conducted on De Kock are based on his not being handy with the soundbites.
But Sri Lanka’s Suranga Lakmal, deputising for the banned Sri Lankan Test captain Dinesh Chandimal, managed to get a resounding 2-0 win despite the fact that we couldn’t understand a word he was saying during any of his interviews.
The fact that the Proteas leaked a lot of runs in De Kock’s first full game in charge will be a case in point for most on why he shouldn’t be anywhere near the leadership table, but with the series lost and a few second-stringers being tried out, he was always on a hiding to nothing.
Also, the bigger point is that we’ve whinged often about how much De Kock relies too much on being an instinctive player. Giving him the reigns might go a long way towards balancing instinct with thinking about what he’s doing out there.
While he’s not exactly expected to lead the Proteas to the World Cup next year, he is a 94 ODI veteran who should be treated like one even at the age of 25. Besides, he’ll always be able to say he was captain when the Proteas won their 2018 ODI series in Sri Lanka.
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