Quinton de Kock may be a step closer than some think to a more permanent batting position within the South African top five at Test level.
I believe there were powerful clues to that through one of Graeme Smith’s more prominent “side announcements” which coincided with confirmation of his fulltime appointment as CSA’s director of cricket late last week.
The long-time former national captain pointedly made it clear that the gifted wicketkeeper-batsman was not being considered as a captaincy option in the foreseeable future for the Proteas’ five-day plans.
Already batting at the top of the order in both one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals, usually wearing the ‘keeping gloves in both and now skipper in both white-ball formats, De Kock, Smith emphasised, needed to remain “fresh ... and playing well”.
Even on the assumption that he would continue to occupy a batting slot in the Test team outside of the top five - most commonly around No 7 to this point in his career - De Kock having the cares of leadership in that arena as well would be a potentially detrimental, significant mental strain on him.
But Smith making so clear that De Kock will not be considered for the Test captaincy (probably leading to a three-way tussle between Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen) could also be interpreted as a harbinger of a major change of heart over the attacking left-hander’s batting station in the longest format.
Although he has been exposed to several different berths in a 47-Test career featuring 2,934 runs at an average of 39.12, De Kock has overwhelmingly been viewed thus far as South Africa’s very own “Adam Gilchrist” as a middle- to lower-order stroke-player ... ideally cashing in, around No 7, on a platform set by others higher up.
The big difference in recent seasons, though - and especially since the retirements of bedrock batsmen like Jacques Kallis and later Hashim Amla - is that South Africa’s frontline batting in Tests has not been nearly as reliable as generally experienced by the juggernaut Australian side of Gilchrist’s era as their combined wicketkeeper and “finishing” thrill factor at the crease.
At the Aussie legend’s peak, in a career involving 96 Tests, he could rely on such players as Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark and Steve Waugh and Mike Hussey to do the key groundwork higher up for one of his trademark blitzes a little lower in the order.
The current Proteas batting arsenal has been inconsistent enough to only keep fuelling the argument for De Kock, arguably its most talented and explosive player, to be pulled into the top five.
While some experts fancy him at No 4, going in at “two down” while still being gloveman (a role he really needs to retain, considering his market-leading brilliance both standing back, and up at the stumps) is a fairly tough ask.
Does the answer lie in De Kock, in a possible happy medium, more regularly now occupying the berth at No 5 that he took with some success in his last Test appearance?
In a late-January performance against England at the Wanderers that helped seal his status as top runs-scorer across both sides, despite England winning the series 3-1, he significantly stood alone in the first innings as a key South African resister in notching 76 out of a flimsy total of 183, and then added a gritty further 39 in the second dig.
Being so at ease as a dual wicketkeeper and batting factor at five shifted De Kock a little more closely toward someone like Alec Stewart, the classy England player of an otherwise often “difficult” period for their Test team in the 1990s, who was similarly required frequently enough - whenever they overlooked more specialist ‘keeper Jack Russell -- to juggle the task of being behind the stumps yet also a primary factor for them at the crease.
It is just possible that his showing at the Bullring served as final proof, in the minds of both Smith and head coach Mark Boucher, that De Kock must bust into that Test top five on a regular basis ... and prompted the former’s clear-cut words on Friday.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing