Cape Town – His rare, mini-slump on the batting front seems as
good a time as any to run a fresh rule more specifically over Quinton de Kock’s
Confident verdict (or at least mine, and at the
understandable risk of parochial accusations)? He is the best gloveman in the
Even as his batting has hit a few speed-bumps this season,
his performance in his specialist department behind the stumps has soared …
from already impressive levels anyway.
He has looked a little forlorn at times recently over his
relative poverty of runs; a personal suggestion would be that he use his
‘keeping brilliance as a device to restore better general cheer and peace of
mind as a cricketer.
De Kock is not used to under-performance for South Africa at
the crease, and that may go some way to explaining his slightly hangdog look as
he trudges for the pavilion after cheap dismissals.
The only guarantee, I would venture, is that the naturally
attack-minded left-hander will come right, and probably soon: why should you
expect anything less from a 25-year-old already possessing a Test average of
41.02 after 28 caps and an even better ODI one of 45.85 from 88 games?
Nevertheless, he has not yet illuminated the ongoing Test
series against India with the blade, despite the Proteas’ unassailable 2-0
lead, sporting scores of 0 and 12 at Centurion and 43 and 8 at Newlands.
He had also missed out on major runs in the once-off Test
against minnows Zimbabwe in Port Elizabeth, registering 24, and before that was
even more surprisingly off-colour in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge, where he
suffered a string of single-figure scores for the Titans.
Particularly in the recent all-Test period of activity,
however – and perhaps some observers have overlooked it because they are so
used to dual mastery from De Kock? – his glovework has only blossomed
Admirably consistent in his core duties related to tidiness
and efficiency behind the stumps (who, after all, ever feels comfortable with the
equivalent of a “flapping ‘keeper” in football?) he is also developing a flair
for the sublime to an increasing degree.
That applies both standing up at the stumps, and when he is
further back to the faster men.
As with every wicketkeeper, De Kock will be diddled from
time to time by the ball that either doesn’t turn enough or turns or spits more
than expected from a spinner, but burgeoning experience of this most difficult
facet of the job is paying very evident dividends for him.
In the Newlands Test, in an unusual foray up to the stumps
with seamer Vernon Philander bowling (apparently a brainchild of the captain,
Faf du Plessis), De Kock also claimed a key, difficult Indian second-innings catch
that he made look deceptively easy.
But I believe it is when he is standing several strides
further back, on orthodox duty against the speedsters, that the baby-faced
figure has really come on in leaps and bounds to install himself as virtually
indisputable premier gloveman in the world.
Helped by the fact that he seems a more spring-heeled leaper
than most – extremely valuable when you are having to pouch soaring bouncers on
lively surfaces from Morne Morkel and others, which might otherwise whistle
away for four byes – De Kock often stirs memories for me of superlative deep,
outstretched Ray Jennings grabs for the Transvaal “Mean Machine” of old.
And when he “goes” in front of first slip for a catch he
tends to do so with enormous conviction.
That is something one of the best possible authorities on
the subject – Graeme Smith – picked up on during SuperSport commentary on the
India series very recently.
The former national captain, and occupier of the record of
seventh most catches (169) by a fielder in Test history, said: “It is wonderful
to have a ‘keeper who commits. Quinton goes at it 100 percent which is great
(for the slip).
“Just as importantly he gets there, too, rather than just
(becoming) a flashing hand in front of the fielder.”
Inevitably these days, of course, batting accomplishments
play a powerful accompanying role, but it appears no coincidence all the same that
De Kock was recently named as the wicketkeeper for both the Test and ODI teams
of the year (2017) by the International Cricket Council.
It was the first time since 2013 – when MS Dhoni was the
dominating personality -- that the gloves job has gone to the same player for
both combos, a forceful statement all of its own.
Bear in mind also that none of South Africa’s current rivals
in world cricket’s “big four” regularly entrust the ‘keeping job to one
particular player across the Test and limited-overs folds.
India are currently juggling uncertainly between Parthiv
Patel and Wriddhiman Saha for the Test XI and still using the 35-year-old Dhoni
for ODI purposes, England employ Jonny Bairstow for Tests whilst Jos Buttler
takes care of limited-overs needs, and Australia have only just returned to the
idea of having another veteran, Tim Paine, in the twin capacity.
Yes, South Africa’s De Kock is labouring just a little at
the crease right now.
My advice: make this temporary period a special celebration
of his wicketkeeping, why don’t you?
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing