Quinton de Kock is South Africa’s talisman at the top of the order © Getty Images
Among the many diagnoses for South Africa’s failure to win a major tournament in almost two decades is the theory that they are simply too scared to take the final step.
If that sounds silly, just consider that South Africa always have everything else waxed. Their preparations are among the best, their squad always includes some of the world’s best players, and they rarely enter an event without some form on their side. That’s why the likes of Herschelle Gibbs and Lance Klusener, who have been there and not done that, too, believe that if a South African side can avoid over-analysis and trust themselves to think on the fly, their fortunes will change.
This time, they have a poster boy to lead the way: Quinton de Kock.
At 24, de Kock is already being spoken of as a legend in the making, in the same breath as Adam Gilchrist and MS Dhoni. It’s not difficult to understand why. Last year, de Kock was South Africa’s highest ODI run-scorer and third globally. This year so far, he has been the second highest for South Africa, behind Faf du Plessis, and fourth overall.
With de Kock in the side, South Africa have scored over 300 while chasing four times in the last three years. Barring one of those occasions – when he scored 19 in South Africa’s successful chase of 328 against Australia in Harare – de Kock set them up each time. He slammed 70 off 49 balls in a chase of 372 against Australia in Durban in October 2016. . He did better against England, plundering a century in Centurion last February, and more recently, striking 98 , albeit in a losing cause.
The last of those illustrates best the importance of de Kock’s role in the South African line-up. Like every opener, he sets the tone, but seldom pre-empts what that will be. He is talented enough to pull off the spontaneous approach, something South Africa have been specifically working on in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy.
“It’s those pressure moments that we identify to make sure we stay in that moment and don’t think too far ahead,” JP Duminy said. “That’s what we’ve learnt over the last couple of weeks – to stay in the moment and focus on what is in front of you and not look too far ahead about the outcome of the game.”
JP Duminy, who has gone 11 innings without a half-century, has gone out of the way to prepare for the Champions Trophy © Getty Images
Duminy is speaking from the opposite end of the spectrum. He enters the Champions Trophy under immense pressure, having failed to pass 50 in 11 innings this year. He has made more than 30 only once in that period. This is not the first time he has had such an extended dry run; between July 2015 and June 2016, too, he went 11 innings without a half-century, but had four scores of 30 or more. The close proximity of the lean patches has him hanging on to his place by a thread, and though he would not explicitly say so, it seems he knows it.
Instead of spending the period between the end of the South African summer and the start of the English one at the IPL, Duminy opted to stay at home and work on his game. “I put in a lot of hard work in the six weeks I was off,” he said. “The main thing was to try and be mentally fresh for this tournament and what lies ahead on this tour.”
“I’m feeling that I’ve achieved that. In terms of my skills, there were one or two things I worked on that I felt needed a bit of work. I don’t feel like there’s added pressure. There’s always high expectation within the team and my expectation on myself in terms of my performance is always high. That will never change.”
The difference is that Duminy has fallen short of expectation too often, while de Kock has recently begun to exceed it. As a result, the responsibility in the South African batting line-up has shifted somewhat, though Duminy insists the division is the same. “Whether you’re a youngster, whether you’re a senior player, I don’t think that (the responsibility) changes,” he said.
Ultimately, the entire South African squad has a responsibility to return home with something to show for their No.1 ranking and the star-studded line-up. They have a responsibility to show that something has changed, that the oft-spoken of conservative mindsets are really in the past and that the shackles have been broken. And they all know it.
“We don’t want to put extra pressure on ourselves by thinking that we need to win this tournament but we definitely want to,” Duminy said. “I don’t think there’s any other team that wants it more.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo