Former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis says team management are trying to manage the current skipper, Quinton de Kock’s workload.
JOHANNESBURG – There’s been plenty said and written about overburdened cricketers the last few weeks.
Perhaps it’s all these bio-bubbles the players are in where movement’s restricted and general social interaction is prohibited. More than that, it’s about the amount of cricket that has to be played in the next two years as the sport at international level tries to catch up after so much of the schedule had to be postponed last year.
But debates about players being overburdened have stretched beyond that as well. Tim Paine, according to various commentators, is overburdened by being wicket-keeper and Australian Test captain. Pat Cummins can’t become Australia’s Test captain, because he’d be overburdened because of all his bowling responsibilities.
Shubman Gill shouldn’t be overburdened with expectation about being the next ‘big thing,’ in batting, and Wiaan Mulder mustn’t be overburdened by being compared to the greatest all-rounder to play the game.
Fine. But do you know who is genuinely overburdened? Quinton de Kock.
It doesn’t require speculation or theorising, it’s right there in front you. He is national captain across all three formats, keeps wicket, opens the batting in the limited overs matches, bats at number 5 in the Test team and is one of less than a handful of bonafide stars in the Proteas side. That’s what overburdened looks like.
No wonder he needs to take his mind off things by catching sharks.
De Kock’s predecessor, Faf du Plessis explained yesterday, that the team’s management were trying to ease the load. “They are trying to manage him well, making sure he’s not doing too many press conferences, meetings … just taking things off his plate that’s not urgent, even that stuff comes with being captain,” said Du Plessis.
“Mark Boucher and the coaching staff are setting up meetings and doing more talking. It looks to me like they are trying to free him up a bit.”
In one sense De Kock will be having more of that burden eased by returning home early, immediately after the second Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, to quarantine for 14 days before Australia’s arrival next month.
But quarantining isn’t easy either and in De Kock’s case, ‘bio-bubbles’ have become a way of life. Since September last year, when he went into the IPL ‘bio-bubble’ up to the Proteas’ current tour of Pakistan, De Kock reckons he’s spent a total of three weeks at home. And most of that time, he’s been confined to a hotel room, eating room service, staring out of a window at places he can’t put his feet, because that is how ‘bio bubbles’ work.
“There’s only so much of that that you can carry on with, but you carry on, because people at home want to watch cricket and they want to watch you perform, so that keeps you motivated. It’s not easy. It’s been tough, but I’m soldering on,” said De Kock.
And the expectations for De Kock and the Proteas are big. This is South Africa’s first tour to Pakistan in 13 years, and the two match Test series comes at a critical juncture for a team that’s in transition. The Proteas have hit the reset button following a difficult home season in 2019/20 in which off field matters impacted on performances.
It was Boucher’s first season as head coach and his plans for the second got upset by the pandemic. In Pakistan, the Proteas have a chance to build on the success of what was achieved against Sri Lanka. That series win was too easily dismissed in some quarters, given Sri Lanka’s problems and the misguided interpretation about where this South Africa is at in terms of development. It was a first Test series triumph in two years for a team that had won just one Test match ahead of that series.
It was a crucial triumph, but some of the gloss will be lost should they not play better in Pakistan.
Conditions will be important. Pakistan come into the series under enormous pressure; even without crowds allowed into the grounds, it’s a crucial home series for them. The coach Misbah ul-Haq’s job is on the line and for Babar, their best batsman, the opening Test in Karachi will be his first as Test captain.
Former Pakistan skipper, Inzamam ul-Haq believes the team selection indicates a lack of ambition from the home-side’s hinting at the kinds of pitches that will be prepared. “No-one can say that this (Pakistan) team can beat any good side,” said Inzamam. “You can prepare big turners against South Africa to win matches but you can’t groom players for future series and that is the most depressing part of this selection.”
The presence of four spinners in the Pakistan squad provides a strong indication of the direction they may take with the surfaces. South Africa, on recent trips to the subcontinent, have grown accustomed to seeing what De Kock called ‘dust bowls,’ being prepared.
The pitches at training have been slow in pace and with low bounce according to Kagiso Rabada, meaning the quicks have to maintain straighter lines, while reverse swing will most certainly play a part.
At that No 5 spot, De Kock is expected to provide the innings with impetus should conditions be as the Proteas anticipate, spin a lot. Generally he’s struggled on previous trips to the subcontinent where he averages just 22.2, although his last Test century was in Visakhapatnam in October 2019.
Hopefully by unburdening some of the responsibilities usually associated with the captaincy, De Kock may do what the Proteas need him to do.
“You want him to be that free flowing Quinton de Kock that he’s always been,” said Du Plessis.