Cape Town – At the still relatively tender age of 24, Quinton de Kock has played 128 international matches across the formats for South Africa … but almost extraordinarily none yet in the traditional home of cricket, England.
So how the big winner at the weekend’s annual CSA Awards banquet fares in his maiden top-flight experience of those near-unique conditions over the next three months may well prove pivotal to the Proteas’ success or failure.
They leave on Tuesday for what amounts to a fairly old-fashioned, genuinely lengthy stint in the United Kingdom, taking in – in this order – a three-match ODI series against England, the multinational ICC Champions Trophy, and then three Twenty20 internationals and four Tests back against the host nation before finally returning home in mid-August.
De Kock should depart for the northern hemisphere in especially good mental fettle after his monopoly of the major laurels at the glitzy function, including Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and both Test and ODI Player of the Year.
Not the most natural of public speakers or especially comfortable in the broad media limelight, he is one of those cricketers who pleasingly lets his game do the talking – and he certainly had a sublime year both as batsman and wicketkeeper for the national cause.
A consistently fast and heavy-scoring factor at the top of the order in ODIs and so often stabiliser or momentum-shifter from his No 7 berth in the Test line-up, it is little wonder that the young phenomenon currently occupies sixth spot – and may well continue to climb – in the respective individual global batting rankings for both formats.
He has proved (often and then some) his ability to adapt to the various, contrasting environments across the cricketing world, again both with the blade and in terms of how he copes with the gloves.
But it is a timely development that he embarks now on a first-time major experience of England, in what really is a red-letter mission for the player and the increasingly youthful, fearless – at least to now -- and ambitious squad he represents.
De Kock was still a teenager making his way in domestic cricket when South Africa last undertook a major tour of that country back in 2012, still under the leadership at Test level of Graeme Smith and with Gary Kirsten as coach.
They won the all-important Test series 2-0 to simultaneously assume the crown of No 1-ranked side in the format.
So it is in the interim period, and in just about every other major cricket-playing country, that De Kock has established himself as a genuine bums-on-seats player worldwide.
His reasonably glaring lack of exposure to fickle English conditions, however, is magnified by the fact that he one of relatively few key batsmen in the Test XI, for example, not to have yet had even a spell with a county side.
Just for example, Dean Elgar has been piling up a promising tally of runs in an early-season spell with Somerset, and slightly embattled opening partner Stephen Cook also picked up form quite tidily after a slow start in Durham colours.
Nevertheless, the usually fast-acclimatising De Kock has already demonstrated in other countries sporting near English-like cool, seaming conditions that he cuts it in such circumstances despite his vastly differing Highveld roots.
Still pretty fresh in many Proteas fans’ memories will be the Johannesburg-born left-hander’s smooth switch, during the triumphant Test series in Australia last season, from the warmth of Perth to deep-southern, chilly, damp Hobart, where his own century and life-restoring sixth-wicket partnership of 144 with Temba Bavuma played a huge role in securing the three-Test series with a game to spare.
De Kock then only underlined his ability to prosper on pitches where the ball traditionally jags around on the later trek to New Zealand, where he scored 91 in Wellington and 90 in Hamilton during another three-Test series.
The other thing to remember is that when the sun shines and temperatures are also kind on those shores, the ball can suddenly go through gun-barrel straight and conditions become a near-paradise for batting, rendering tight technique against the moving ball relatively unrequired at times.
Still, actually getting big ‘uns for South Africa at some of England’s dripping-in-tradition venues must be a goal De Kock hugely aspires to, considering how long it has taken for the opportunity to come about.
He will not be shy of chances to take guard there between now and August …
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