De Kock eagerly volunteered to step up and open the batting after Dean Elgar’s injury, but despite scoring an impressive 82 for South Africa on the first day of the second Test against New Zealand at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Saturday, he said afterwards that he did not want to do the job again.
Regular opener Elgar twisted his ankle at training on the eve of the game and De Kock approached coach Russell Domingo and said he was willing to fill in at the top of the order, despite also having the wicketkeeping duties to fulfil.
“I thought I should just do it, I didn’t see anyone else looking keen to do it, so I said to Russell that if he wanted me to open then I would do it. I’ve had a bit of experience opening in four-day cricket and it just seemed natural to me. Stiaan van Zyl has had a go at it and I thought ‘let me rather have a try’,” De Kock said after play.
The left-hander scored freely but also showed excellent judgement as he breezed to 82 off 114 balls, sharing a first-wicket stand of 133 with Stephen Cook, and looked extremely assured in the role on a testing pitch. But when asked whether he would want to do the job again, he flatly said “No”.
“Opening in a Test is an under-rated job, you need different skills, it’s not the same as doing it in limited-overs cricket. The ball moves around and it really tests your technique and patience. I learnt a bit about myself today … but I’d rather stay at six or seven,” De Kock said.
It is the first time a Test is being played at Centurion in August and the pitch was the subject of much discussion. De Kock said the ball was moving around all day.
“It was a tough pitch, there was a lot of movement off it and there was plenty of swing for most of the day. But it’s a good wicket because both the batsmen and the bowlers can get reward. I think it will stay the same through the Test, although it will get quicker because it was a bit soft and spongy this morning. There aren’t a lot of indentations, there’s still fresh grass, but late on day four or five there may be some cracks.
“I learnt a lot about where to be tight, how to play certain balls and I think today was the most I’ve ever left the ball. So I was proud of myself, it’s nice to know that I can do the job on that sort of pitch,” De Kock said.
The top four batsmen –Cook (56), De Kock (82), Hashim Amla (58) and JP Duminy (67*) all posted half-centuries, the first time South Africa have done this in a Test since December 2010 against India at the same ground. That was the memorable match in which Jacques Kallis finally scored his maiden Test double-century (201*) and, with Graeme Smith (62), Alviro Petersen (77), Amla (140) and AB de Villiers (129) also all contributing, the Proteas scored 620 for four declared and won by an innings.
So after the most solid top-order display since then, South Africa’s batting unit were obviously pleased with the day’s work.
“All the batsmen are in a good space, we’re all fairly confident with our games. It was nice for the batting unit to do well today because we weren’t allowed to score freely, we had to work hard and it was the sort of pitch that when you feel in, that’s when you can get out,” De Kock said.
The New Zealanders admitted it had been a tough day for them after winning the toss, but they still feel in the game.
“It was just one of those days when we just couldn’t get things right, but the game is still fairly evenly poised, even after a long, tough day for us. There’s still a lot of assistance out there.
“We didn’t start well, we didn’t bowl in partnerships for long periods of time, but we became better. But South Africa batted very well in trying circumstances, they left well and played very late so a lot of the edges went square of the wicket.
“We are a good bowling unit but there are days when you don’t get it 100% right, but we’re not in a bad position. We’re two wickets away from being right back in it, so the team is still positive. We need to put the batsmen under pressure from the start tomorrow, squeeze them, because it is a tough pitch to start on,” said Neil Wagner, the best of the New Zealand bowlers with two for 51 in 22 overs.