Prior to the start of the Test series, wicketkeepers from both the sides were expected to stand out riding on some magnificent form in the recent times. Jonny Bairstow scored 330 runs in 8 innings while Quinton de Kock has managed 181 runs in seven innings so far. De Kock did get two half-centuries but was expected to inflict much more damage than this. After the Lords Test, De Kock was promoted to 4, where he scored just one fifty in four innings. De Kock has been a force to reckon in the lower middle-order, especially at 7, but was experimented at four in two games, which hardly paid off.
It’s no mystery that AB de Villiers’ shoes are too big for South Africa to fill but De Kock is not a solution to it. For a while though, they did find a way to adjust without Mr.360 but his absence is certainly hurting South Africa now. JP Duminy was dropped after the Lords Test and South Africa elevated De Kock to No. 4. The southpaw got a solid fifty in the first Test and has been their man in form. South African openers have not been impactful at the top and Hashim Amla’s form in away games till that game had been ordinary. South Africa needed some solidity in the top four and gambled with De Kock, their best option.
De Kock responded to the call with a brisk 68 off 81 deliveries in Nottingham and raised hopes for being a reliable No. 4. But, struggled to get going in the next three innings, where he scored 1, 17 and 5. Let’s take a look at his dismissals from the Nottingham Test onwards. In the first innings at Trent Bridge, De Kock got out while playing a square cut only to be pouched by Alastair Cook at first slip as he top-edged it. In the second innings, De Kock was undone by a delivery that angled away from him and took a fine edge for a solitary run. South Africa won the game and squared the series.
At The Oval, debutant Toby Roland-Jones was wreaking havoc and was announcing himself at the big stage. He got the better of South Africa’s top three and looked unstoppable with the ball. It was mandatory to show some respect as Roland-Jones was making the ball talk. De Kock had played 20 deliveries for his 17 but the ball was still moving. He tried to work a full ball towards leg side but managed a leading edge, which was cupped by Ben Stokes. De Kock couldn’t curb his natural instincts as the ball was in his zone. Going by the situation, South Africa needed someone to stay but it wouldn’t be just to blame De Kock as he is a stroke-maker. His natural game is going after the bowling attack and has found impeccable success at 7.
In the second innings, De Kock was removed by an absolute beauty by Stokes. He got the yorker dead right and De Kock could have hardly done anything about it. But, if one introspects his dismissal, De Kock was trying to work this one on the leg side as well. He is a superstar in the lower middle-order and has proved his worth at the said position. In the Test series against New Zealand, he was outstanding with the bat, scoring crucial runs and rescuing the South African ship with belligerence.
De Kock’s style of play is well suited for No. 6 and 7, where he doesn’t have to worry about anything. Anyway, he remains unaffected by the situation and plays his natural game, but doing such at 6 or 7 will just give him more liberty. One should also remember, South Africa bat deep, the likes of Vernon Philander, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada and Moṛne Morkel can bat. He has had and will have enough assistance from them to bat and make the most in the end, which is crucial.
De Kock has also been effective against the second new ball and has hardly looked short of confidence against it. A number 7 batsman is more likely to face the second new ball and De Kock hasn’t looked technically unequipped in the past. A wicketkeeper puts a lot of efforts on the field and batting in the top-order would become tedious further increasing the workload. It would be beneficial for the team as well as for the keeper to bat in the lower middle-order in Test format.
Talking about batting positions, De Kock has been prolific at 7, having scored 825 runs in 13 Tests at a staggering average of 58.92. He has three tons in Tests so far all of which came while batting at 7. He batted at 4 in four innings, which came in this series, averaging 22.75. He averages 33.38 while batting at six in 6 games whereas, at 5, De Kock averages 18 in a solitary Test. Numbers suggest that he will be an asset in the lower middle-order and stats don’t lie.
De Kock has often been compared with former Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist, who did a commendable job at seven. De Kock has shown immense potential at an early age and has the ingredients to become one of the best wicketkeeper-batsmen. Batting at four requires the ability to build an innings and lay a foundation for the lower middle-order. De Kock can certainly play match-winning innings but his style of play will be best suited in the lower middle-order.
After an unsuccessful experiment, De Kock was seen batting at 6 in the first innings of the ongoing Old Trafford Test. Although he didn’t manage to make an impact, but it’s just a matter of time before he rediscovers his mojo and create problems for the bowling side. With age being on his side, one can only expect him to get better but South Africa need to give him a stable spot and invest as an explosive wicketkeeper-batsman, who bats at 6 or 7.