Cape Town – The Ram Slam T20 Challenge final later on Saturday (18:00) at SuperSport Park offers a last opportunity for the one misfiring Proteas favourite in the Titans’ ranks to get among the runs ahead of the fast-approaching busy Test phase for South Africa.
Quinton de Kock is the unusual case in point.
Around him, various international colleagues – whether Test or limited-overs specialists or both -- have played often pivotal roles in the home franchise’s near-effortless march to the showpiece.
Farhaan Behardien, AB de Villiers and Aiden Markram have been consistently dominant with the blade, all averaging well above 50 – Behardien, in fact, has only been dismissed once en route to 230 runs in six innings.
On the bowling front, left-arm spinner Tabraiz Shamsi has been in imperious, tournament-leading form with 16 wickets, whilst legendary fast bowler Dale Steyn has made a deliberately filtered comeback from his serious shoulder injury and shown encouraging new promise for the most part.
So De Kock, in many senses, has been a strangely jarring exception during this tournament.
It is desperately seldom, especially during a Proteas career that now spans some five years, for the crowd-pleasing left-handed batsman and acrobatic wicketkeeper to be notably out of the frontline action.
He is someone already averaging in the mid-forties in both Tests and ODIs, only bearing out how much of a consistent, forceful figure he has become for his country.
The baby-faced “assassin” turns 25 on Sunday, so coming to the fore in the final against the Dolphins would not only be a fitting early gift to himself, but also dish out a fresh reminder of his amazing, broad cricketing capabilities as the once-off four-day Test against Zimbabwe in Port Elizabeth from Boxing Day draws much closer.
So far in the T20 Challenge, he has had a wretched time of it statistically at the crease, managing a less than grand sum of 79 runs from seven turns at the crease at an average of 11.28.
Five of those knocks have been especially short-lived, single-figure ones, including another flop in the semi-final against the Warriors on Wednesday where seamer Andrew Birch dismissed him for a three-ball score of one.
De Kock’s best effort has been 39 against his former Lions franchise – a long way off his domestic record-breaking T20 best of 126 not out against the Cape Cobras a few seasons back.
Interestingly, too, he didn’t wear the ‘keeping gloves in the semi; last-ditch replacement Heinrich Klaasen – for the injured Henry Davids – instead performed that role.
Although he is seemingly not considered officially “crocked” on that front, it has been noticeable for several matches now that the Proteas gloveman has been taking some demonstrably painful blows to the hands/fingers – a phenomenon that began during the all-formats home series against Bangladesh.
Is it just possible that an element of discomfort as wicketkeeper is impeding him in an overall sense?
A sprightly performance from De Kock in the final would go a long way to dispelling any fears on that front, although it will be interesting to see whether Klaasen (in the preannounced match-day squad) gets a gig again at SuperSport Park and also goes behind the stumps.
Of course it is foolhardy to place too much weight in T20 figures as a gauge of a player’s well-being; it is the format where luck – good and bad – plays an indisputably strong role and there are periods when the best of stroke-players will inconveniently “pick out catchers” and the like.
Perhaps De Kock has simply been doing that to an unaccustomed degree.
Before the T20 Challenge, too, he had made a blistering start to his home international season, even if it was against a comprehensively walloped, often popgun Bangladeshi outfit.
De Kock’s scores included a 59 in a T20 international, and successive ODI innings of 168 not out (Kimberley), 46 (Paarl) and 73 (East London).
A very temporary domestic trough for this true X-factor player?
Every chance, really …
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