The anointed successor to Hashim Amla did something potentially career-changing earlier this year. The outcome has been promising...
When Theunis de Bruyn walks out to bat for the Proteas in the first Test against India in Visakhapatnam, he’ll be having an Ardie Savea moment … so to speak.
The All Black flanker had tongues wagging this week when he played with so-called rugby goggles against Canada at the Rugby World Cup, obstensibly because the sight in his left eye had “deteriorated significantly”.
South Africa’s anointed successor to the legendary Hashim Amla in the pinnacle form of the game had a similar problem, except he took more drastic action.
Now, De Bruyn and a national cricket team in full-blown transition hopes it translates into the runs he’s continually plundered at lower levels.
It all started on a balmy, damp evening at Willowmoore Park during last season’s domestic One-day Cup.
He knew he needed to find his mojo immediately because the Titans had been set a stiff, rain-reduced target of 182 off 21 overs.
But he couldn’t.
“Something just wasn’t right,” the elegant right-hander told The Citizen earlier.
“I was facing the type of pace bowling I’ve been exposed to for most of my life. In fact, (Warriors captain) Jon-Jon Smuts was sending down his left-arm spinners at one end. But I felt rushed. I was totally uncomfortable.”
Smuts castled him shortly afterwards, ending a painful 11-ball innings that could prove to be career-changing.
“The next day I went to play a round of golf with a good mate and realised I couldn’t follow some of my balls. I tried to ignore it initially, but as the morning went on, I had to front up,” said De Bruyn.
“I revealed to my friend what was happening and we both agreed I had to go get an eye test.”
De Bruyn’s sight was indeed failing him.
The 26-year-old didn’t remotely hesitate to interrupt his season – he was going to undergo laser surgery immediately.
“I was a bit anxious during the week I had to recover. My next innings couldn’t come soon enough.”
That feeling of anxiety was totally misplaced.
Opening the batting against the Knights in the Titans’ final round robin encounter of the tournament, he raced to 183 off just 145 deliveries.
Those “new” eyes had helped him equal Aiden Markram’s highest individual score in the history of the competition.
Yet, particularly in the context of De Bruyn’s international career, that one innings merely felt like an appetiser.
He had to still convince the doubters that the runs were going to pile up.
De Bruyn seemed to be batting on a different planet in the domestic T20 Challenge, topping the run charts with 348 runs in just seven innings at an incredible strike rate of 161.
It was the perfect tonic, one that fully justified Cricket South Africa’s decision to hand him a national contract.
Theunis de Bruyn of the Multiply Titans batting during the Momentum One-Day Cup final match between Multiply Titans and Hollywoodbets Dolphins at SuperSport Park on March 31, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)
Importantly, his white-ball form was a timely reminder that he’s a batsman capable of excelling in all forms of the game, a view obscured last year when he made a maiden Test hundred in a losing cause in Sri Lanka.
“That century meant a lot. It was confirmation that I can ply my trade at international level. However, it also led to me playing predominantly red-ball cricket,” De Bruyn said, recalling a four-hour, 232-ball 101.
“I’ve never played the game to impress others, but I’ve always been an aggressive batsman, even at school. Despite the surgery, I also spent a lot of time honing my technique and facing extra balls in the nets. I was just searching for the so-called X-factor in my game again.”
Even if opportunities might arise for him in the 50- and 20-over arenas, the Proteas now need him to show steel in whites.
There was a fluent 41 for South Africa ‘A’ before the current series, but the real challenge lies ahead.
“Contracts are only temporary things. It should only be used as a platform for elevating your game,” said De Bruyn.
“I still firmly believe you need to force yourself into teams by sheer weight of runs. The selectors said new opportunities would emerge after the World Cup and that’s exciting. I’m very keen to be part of that.”
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