When he knew it was all over, Tony Montana pulled out the machine gun and uttered the legendary line, “Say hello to my little friend.”
It is almost impossible to imagine Quinton de Kock Getting very expressive, but in his last World Cup, right at the end of an international career where he probably felt like Montana at times, he brought his own, genuine little friend: a willingness to bat long and a method.
Not that he hasn’t always had it. When de Kock first announced himself with three centuries in a week against India in late 2013, when he was almost the Simba that senior players preferred to retain, he was – in his approach and scoring field – an old-fashioned ODI opener, cautiously Will start and look to play deep into the innings.
By the middle of his ODI career, however, de Kock had become more of an enforcer and less of a long-innings player. From 2018 to 2022, he did not have more than one ODI century in any year, but his strike-rate during that period (98.78) was higher than before (94.62).
And then came 2023. South Africa have devised a strategy where they want to destroy their power-hitting lower middle order in no more than 20 overs. This allowed de Kock to return to his original style. Batting first this year, he hit just 4.61 overs in the first powerplay, going to 6.09 and 5.44 in the same phase in 2021 and 2022.
The desire to bat long is obvious, and the approach is to somehow overcome the initial movement. Thanks to South Africa’s persistent lower middle-order eliminations, de Kock knows it’s best to start slowly. So slow that South Africa went slower than Pakistan in the first powerplay of this World Cup.
South Africa have good reason to have a good lead as de Kock gets off to a slow start. inside 32 innings in Asia, de Kock crossed 50 on 10 occasions; Eight of them scored centuries. In innings where de Kock has crossed 30, he has achieved better control figures in Asia than in any other continent. It clearly indicates a skill in this condition. His IPL experience undoubtedly helps.
Even apart from these figures, if you just go by feel, you can well imagine what a nightmare it will be for the bowlers if de Kock decides and finds a way to bat deep. Because he is not a batsman who can be restricted by the field. In terms of numbers, Asia has the upper hand. He will always catch up.
A good example was this slow start Against New Zealand in Pune. He was 13 off 25 balls after 10 overs. His response was nothing dramatic. He sweats his favorite pick-up pull against Tim Southee. That shot is a hard length neutralizer like no other. Now de Kock is not a surprise package, and Southee is a willing bowler. He continued to deny de Kock the shot, mostly putting it wide. De Kock waited for just the right ball, and when he got the right line, it came at the start of the 16th over.
Fluency came with that shot although there was probably never a time when he or Rassie van der Dusen were fully comfortable on what looked like a somewhat tricky surface to begin with.
There was gradual acceleration until the 30th over, then he started to build shots, move inside the line and aim for the long-leg area. It was consistent with the way he has fared in this World Cup: cautious at the start, picked up in the middle overs and then started hitting after 30. If it takes off, we’re in for fireworks like Montana; If not, South Africa don’t lose much as the batsmen are better off using these deliveries.
De Kock’s change in approach resulted in this being his fourth century in this World Cup with at least three – and possibly four – innings to go. It is a pleasure to see him end his ODI career with the freedom to bat the way he started.
At 152 innings now, it’s a very short career, but de Kock’s little friend has helped him take the frequency of century-scoring into the gold standards of ODI batting in his era. Virat Kohli once every six innings, roughly, and Rohit Sharma once every eight innings; De Kock is slightly slower than the century every seven innings. It would take a brave person to bet against him improving that rate.