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Proteas must choose next Test skipper wisely

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Coach Mark Boucher and convenor of selectors Victor Mpitsang have time to discuss who should who should succeed Quinton de Kock as Proteas captain.

Reluctant Proteas captain Quinton de Kock at a nets session ahead of the recent series against Pakistan. Picture: Shahzaib, EPA

JOHANNESBURG – Mark Boucher and Victor Mpitsang, along with the rest of the South Africa’s selectors, will discuss the identity of a permanent Test captain for the Proteas in the next few weeks, but Boucher doesn’t believe Quinton de Kock should be judged harshly on how he has fared in the role in the last four Tests.

De Kock agreed to captain the Proteas in the longest format in the short term, i.e. the series’s against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia. The latter is no longer going ahead, because Cricket SA and Cricket Australia couldn’t agree to terms around pandemic safety for the tour, which is giving Boucher and Mpitsang more time to make a decision.

“We’ll have the discussions when we get back home, I’ll talk to the selectors, and see the way going forward,” said Boucher. “We have a bit of time now, not to make an emotional decision, but a smart decision.”

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The smart decision at this point would be to relieve De Kock of the captaincy. In the four Tests this season in which he’s led the side, his batting has suffered. He’s scored just 74 runs at an average of 12.33 with a highest score of 29. The shot he played in the second innings in Rawalpindi was terrible.

However Boucher isn’t sure it’s just the captaincy that has affected De Kock’s batting.

“If he’d scored runs, I wouldn’t have to answer this,” he replied to an inquiry about the effects of the captaincy on De Kock’s batting. “I think batters go through periods where they score or maybe don’t. Quinny unfortunately has had this happen when he’s had the captaincy as well.

FILE – In four Test innings this season, Quinton de Kock, far right, has scored a total of 74 runs, with a highest score of 29. Picture: PCB

“The big thing is, when you are captain everything gets highlighted. Obviously his lack of form is being highlighted and people are asking: ‘Is it because of the captaincy?’ And maybe it is.”

De Kock has been asked to bear an enormous load. He was made captain of the limited overs sides last summer, a position in which there is a lot on his plate; keeping, opening the batting, building teams in the T20 and ODI formats for World Cup tournaments in the next few years.

Then De Kock got the Test captaincy as well, along with a new spot, higher up in the batting order, where he was expected to provide impetus in the innings. It’s asking a lot.

De Kock, to his credit, has been honest about the fact that he is only the Test captain temporarily. Along with the difficulties he has had in dealing with lengthy periods in isolation because of the pandemic, he seems worn down and not just his batting, but the way he captained the team suffered, as was witnessed in the first Test in Karachi where he made poor use of the Decision Review System, while his keeping was not up to scratch either.

One candidate for the position, Aiden Markram, seems to have turned a corner in terms of his international career in Pakistan. The way he has adapted to overcome a weakness against spin bowling is admirable. His mental fortitude can’t be questioned even if he lets his emotions occasionally cause self-harm like it did in Ranchi in 2019 and as he showed upon getting out in Rawalpindi on Monday.

He may be soft spoken, but he’s extremely competitive, and he’d like to captain South Africa even though he put thoughts about captaincy aside this season, while he’s tried to re-establish himself in the national team.

FILE – South Africa’s Aiden Markram plays a shot during the fourth day of the second Test against Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi. Picture: Aamir Qureshi, AFP

“I’ve mentioned this before, it is something I would naturally enjoy doing,” Markram said on Monday.

“I’ve not given it too much thought recently. I don’t think that after just four Tests, as we’ve had this season, it allows a player to think very differently, along those lines.”

“My job is ultimately to score runs and win games, and that is still the focus for me,” he added.

Boucher, Mpitsang and Co. may soon see that differently.

“If it is looking at someone else to do the job permanently, the time is probably now to do it,” said Boucher. “There is time, we can give the guy a few months to get his way (of captaining) in and listen to what thoughts he’s got regarding this Test team going forward.”

@shockerhess