There was arguably more relief for Quinton de Kock’s many supporters than for the batsman himself after his superb unbeaten century on the second day of the first Test against the West Indies at St Lucia on Friday, but there is no denying the last year has been very tough for the Proteas wicketkeeper/batsman.
For one of the more instinctive, laid-back talents in South African cricket, a person whose off-field pursuits are largely geared around the great outdoors, bio-bubbles are not easy for De Kock and over and above that he also had to deal with the captaincy of a struggling side.
Having taken a break in the latter half of the summer and now relieved of the captaincy, De Kock blossomed on Friday with a brilliantly judged innings of 141 not out that put the Proteas in firm control of the first Test with a massive first-innings lead of 225.
“It didn’t really have anything to do with the captaincy,” De Kock said of his recent struggles. “It’s just the Covid bubbles. We’ve had so many and they just took their toll.
“It was too much and I just needed a break. Cricket South Africa deemed it a mental break, but I wasn’t tired of cricket, I was tired of the bubbles.
“I went from the IPL into the Pakistan bubble and that was particularly difficult, just going from the ground to one floor of the hotel and our rooms that had no balconies.
“Previously I wasn’t able to capitalise on my starts in Test cricket and then in the last while I haven’t even been getting starts, so it was nice to get the hundred today,” De Kock explained after his career-best Test innings.
De Kock has always been one of the classiest strokeplayers in the game, but on Friday he showed the appreciation of the game situation and the ability to adapt to it that is a mark of all the top batsmen. After a rapid start that saw him race to 22 off 24 balls, a much better second hour by the West Indian bowlers on a pitch that was still offering plenty of assistance to the quicks, saw De Kock adopt a much more cautious approach and he went to lunch on 44 off 88 deliveries.
The left-hander shared a couple of very useful partnerships with Rassie van der Dussen and Wiaan Mulder, but a fightback by the home side saw the Proteas slip to 233 for eight. But batting with the tail is a skill that De Kock has mastered, despite all the people who want him batting higher up the order, and he showed a cool, razor-sharp mind as he added 79 for the ninth wicket with Anrich Nortje, who scored just seven of those runs.
“It was a nice start to the day and then the bowlers brought it back really well,” he said.
“I understood the situation though and there was a lot in the pitch. We just needed to soak up the pressure for as long as we could and then capitalise. Credit also to the other guys who chipped in. It was a difficult pitch, even though it was not as up-and-down as it was with the new ball in the second innings.
“Even after 75 overs the ball was swinging a lot, but you’ve just go to find a way of dealing with it. There was obviously still a lot in that pitch on the second day, but it was a fair contest because if you worked hard as a batsman you could get runs and the bowlers always had a chance too.”
At the close of play on the second day, the West Indies were 82 for four in their second innings, still needing 143 runs to make the Proteas bat again.