Stats suggests that Proteas captain Quinton de Kock batting at number 7 is better for the team, but he is happiest coming in at number 5.
JOHANNESBURG – Quinton de Kock is clear about his spot in the Proteas Test side’s batting order, despite statistics suggesting he is actually better elsewhere.
“Let’s put it this way,” De Kock said from Karach this week, “I’m alright with batting at five, it’s just sounds like everyone else can’t decide whether I should bat at five or seven at the moment.”
Indeed De Kock’s spot in the batting order has been an area of much conjecture since the series in England in 2017, when South Africa’s inexperienced batting order was exposed on some tricky pitches against some high quality seam bowling.
For a while thereafter, the discussions were muted, notably when AB de Villiers played his final seven Tests in 2017/18, but with his retirement, the volume increased, especially last summer, when once again, an inexperienced batting line-up folded under pressure against a street-wise England attack.
By the end of that four-match series Mark Boucher chose to shift De Kock up the order from No.7 to No.5. He was South Africa’s best batsman, and promoting him was seen as a way of giving him the best chance to make an impact, in a match winning manner.
Boucher has stuck with that ploy this summer even as he and the selectors have added enormously to the responsibility that De Kock now has, by making him the captain of the Test side – albeit in the short term.
“In our team we are pretty settled, I am too. I’m happy there, it’s probably just the outside noise. If I’m batting at seven they want me at five, If I’m batting at five they want me at seven. At the moment I’m settled at five and I’m happy to be there,” De Kock explained
The sample size on his worth at number five is still quite small. De Kock’s batted just five times in that spot, the first time at Lord’s in 2017 when he made 18 in a dreadful second innings performance by South Africa.
His highest score in that position came at the Wanderers against England last summer, when he made 76, amidst another poor performance by the rest of the batting unit.
Meanwhile at number seven, where he has batted the most, he averages nearly 50, and has scored all of his five Test centuries. The concern is that by batting him at No 7 he’ll run out of partners and thus won’t be able to drive South Africa to bigger totals.
On the flip side is the increased workload on De Kock’s shoulders. Wicket-keeping is hard enough as is, and as Tim Paine’s experiences against India have highlighted, carrying out captaincy duties as well, makes it harder still. And Paine doesn’t play in the white ball formats for Australia, where De Kock does for SA, also keeping, captaining and opening the batting.
South Africa’s series against Pakistan, may prove a determining factor for De Kock and Boucher as they seek to provide some balance between giving him room to make an impact with bat, along with the other responsibilities that he also carries, while also not wearing him out.
There’s also his record in the subcontinent that bears consideration; De Kock averages just 22.2 in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, having batted for the most part at number six and seven. “When we’ve played on Asian pitches in the past, I think they target this team specifically and they prepare dustbowls,” he said.
Pakistan, may have a rich history of fast bowling, and pitches there, as Boucher pointed out before the team’s departure, historically don’t spin as much as the other subcontinent countries, but the presence of four spinners in the home squad suggests they may follow the example of their subcontinent neighbours in tackling South Africa.
Babar Azam’s men are certainly under huge pressure following the poor results against New Zealand recently.