Quinton de Kock - Expect a fearless leader behind that apprehensive face

Quinton de Kock - Expect a fearless leader behind that apprehensive face

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This prodigy, who had once considered moving to the United States for the love of baseball, finds himself as South Africa's T20I captain today. De Kock has hopped on the top upheaving and releasing the burden, one by one, and letting the team subtly know that it’s their job too.

The South Africa cricket team announced their return into the international territory in 1991, after 21 years of being banned, with a three-match ODI series in India. A 22-year-old Hansie Cronje was among the four ‘development’ players who were selected as a part of the tour, and even though they wouldn’t play any match, it was supposed to provide experience to these youngsters. The South African selectors, defying orthodox standards, selected a young squad for their maiden World Cup campaign. Kepler Wessels would lead the 1992 side which included Cronje as one of the young batsmen. It didn’t take long for the captain to become fond of Cronje, a young and ecstatic talent. 

During the tour to India, Wessels had already noticed Cronje before the series took off and recognized his exemplary yet innocent leadership skills. To quote Wessels, “We arrived one night in Agra and got off the plane. Our baggage was on a truck at the hotel and for some reason the staff were not available to offload. We stood around waiting, and everybody was tired and irritable. So Hansie simply jumped onto the baggage mountain and started taking down the suitcases. This prompted the others to do the work too. I could see he had natural leadership, was a servant-leader, doing what it takes to get things done, however small.”

Come to today’s South Africa team, who do you think would do the same as a 22-year-old Cronje did with those bags? 

South Africa’s chances in World Cup 2019 didn’t seem as bleak when they defeated a visiting Sri Lankan side in the early half of this year. After setting the tone for themselves with a historic 2-0 Test series victory in South Africa, the Lankan side found themselves in deep trouble during the five ODIs. Quinton de Kock starred in four of those games, forming stable partnerships with his captain Faf du Plessis and scoring fifty-plus scores in each of them. Call it a twist of fate, South Africa ended up one spot below Sri Lanka in the World Cup points table.

Like Hansie in 1992, de Kock failed to score too many runs in South Africa’s 2019 World Cup campaign despite entering the marquee tournament with an exceptional form. But the 26-year-old wicketkeeper is everything as a batsman that Cronje wasn’t. With a batting average of 45.01, a strike rate of 95.20 and 14 tons, he is a complete ODI batsman. 

The story wasn’t the same when he embarked on his international career as a 21-year-old in 2013. He was selected for the T20I series against New Zealand in 2012-13 to keep wickets replacing a rested AB de Villiers. Despite failing to make much of a first impression, he went on to make his ODI debut against New Zealand in January 2013. After an unsuccessful debut and a following lean series in Sri Lanka in July 2013, he was dropped from the side. 

De Kock’s first ODI hundred came immediately after his return in the series against Pakistan. A month later, in a home series against India, he produced three hundreds in a row, thus sharing the record for the most successive ODI centuries, that was later bettered by Kumar Sangakkara. Behind his timid face lied the ability of remarkably fearless striking and classy glovework and that, within a year, led to de Kock establishing himself in all three formats.

It was against India that a young de Kock found his way to mainstream recognition around five years ago. Later in 2015, he produced two ODI hundreds in five games when South Africa toured India. Come to today’s date, a seasoned de Kock has been given leadership responsibilities against familiar opponents and somewhat familiar territory when South Africa play a three-match T20I series in India, starting from September 15.

Under Faf du Plessis, South Africa became a closely-knit unit. But he’s 35 now and the management is eyeing the T20 World Cup scheduled in 2020. While announcing de Kock as the newest captain of the T20I side, Cricket South Africa’s interim director Enoch Nkwe made no hesitation to declare the explosive left-handed batsman as the rightful heir of du Plessis. 

"We know where Faf stands as a captain and as a player. He has done great things for SA cricket. But we also need to look at what future looks like and we strongly believe in Quinton, who is going to be leading the team going forward. We have a good leader and it's an opportunity to start building for the future. It's the start of a new chapter and focus will be the coming series against India. We would be looking to lay a good foundation going into the T20 World Cup next year in Australia," Nkwe told reporters earlier this week.

“I might not have graduated from high school but I have a master's degree in cricket"

We might not see him as a leader, and not just, even his mates as de Kock has previously revealed. But he carries a weird camouflaged intelligence that refuses to meet the naked eye. Last year, as stand-in captain, he said “ya, it was pretty cool, hey” about his leadership experience. 

As Boeta Dippenaar recalls about Cronje, “Hansie’s optimism was another factor in the curve of successes. There was never anything pessimistic about him,” de Kock’s optimism, too, is something else. Where else do you think his Sehwag-like cover-drives or his Kohli-like pulls come from? 

De Kock is fearlessly optimistic. Even in his admittance of not liking books as a kid, he told ESPNCricinfo, “I didn't need school or university to get where I am today. We joke in the dressing room that I might not have graduated from high school but I have a master's degree in cricket."

And dare you call him “unintelligent” because as Paddy Upton puts it, "Defining someone like Quinton de Kock as unintelligent is perhaps the most unintelligent comment that a person can make."

Meanwhile, Faf du Plessis’ successor has always been clear in his mind, even before captaincy was bestowed on him. "My goal has never been to retire with a high average or be recognised on the rankings list. My goal is to be an impact player. I want to hit the ball hard and win games and tournaments for my country.”

This prodigy who once considered a move to the United States due to his love for baseball finds himself as the T20I captain of the South Africa cricket team today. Just liked Cronje did with the bags, de Kock has hopped on the top upheaving and releasing the burden one by one and letting the team subtly know that it’s their job too.

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