“But is Klaasen really a back-up? Has de Kock done enough to warrant a place in the side? Where will Klaasen fit in”?
Quinton de Kock’s weakness exposed?
One of the most forgotten South African heroes from the past two decades is Mark Boucher. A gritty cricketer, a fabulous keeper and a calm customer with the willow, Boucher’s contributions to South African cricket is immense. Such was his presence in the side that for close to fifteen years, the Proteas never even had to ponder over another keeper.
Yet, when a freak incident saw a bail hit his eye and his career come to a grinding halt, few realised how big a loss it was for South African cricket. After all they had a prolific, uber talented Quinton de Kock waiting to spread his wings.
When de Kock stormed into the South African squads across formats with his boyish charm and bludgeononh shot-making, Boucher was forgotten in the blink of an eye. Even when de Kock had a blip in the 2015 World Cup and was subsequently dropped from the Test squads, there was this widespread belief that he would return strongly.
So he did. In 8 Tests in 2016, he made the no.7 slot his own with two tons, five half-centuries and an average of 63.18. With Temba Bavuma, possessing completely different skill-sets, at no.6, de Kock thrived.
The downfall started in New Zealand when Jeetan Patel with his sharp off-spinners exposed a long-standing weakness in de Kock’s game. He had a disastrous England series and then struggled to no end against India in South Africa.
The de Kock of the past was a confident, young individual who realised that talent wouldn’t help him cut at International level. He would devote hours in the nets and hone his skills to develop into the cricketer South Africa need him to be.
“He’s a joy to work with these days. His work ethic has lacked in the past, but in the last four or five months, he’s been superb. Its reached a stage now where, every time myself and my assistant coach see Quinton, we want to run away because we know he’s going to make us work for an extra two or three hours at least,” his coach, Geoffrey Toyana had joked a few years back.
However, there are whispers doing rounds that de Kock is no longer the hard-working cricketer he once was. His Test career has gone downhill in recent times as has his returns in limited-overs cricket where he enjoyed the freedom at the top of the order.
Enter Heinrich Klaasen. Another Titans player and a product of Mark Boucher’s relentless coaching at the franchise, Klaasen is every bit in the Boucher mould.
“He [Boucher] has made a really big impact on me, both for my keeping and for my mental game,” Klaasen had said when he was first picked on the back of runs in the Sun Foil series, South Africa’s domestic First-class competition.
In the 2016/17 season, Klaasen smashed 635 runs in 9 matches at an average of 48.84 including a hundred and four half-centuries.
For three summers prior to that, at Northerns, Klaasen was among the best of performers. He averaged 42.58 in his first season, 52.10 in his second and 65.25 in his third, but could not break into the Titans set up for they had an abundance of keepers. Heino Kuhn and Mangaliso Mosehle occupied the available spots and were doing enough to keep Klaasen out. He, however, was content to bide his time and worked on his game.
The introduction of Mark Boucher as coach, Mosehle’s shift to Lions and Kuhn concentrating on batting opened the doors for Klaasen. There has been no looking back ever since. What sets apart Klaasen from the others is his amazing temperament and mental game, honed by Boucher himself.
In his debut ODI series, Klaasen fearlessly led South Africa to their sole win against India in a six-match series. With de Kock floundering, Klaasen is named as a back-up in the Test squad.
But is Klaasen really a back-up? Has de Kock done enough to warrant a place in the side? Where will Klaasen fit in?
Even as these questions get thrown around, people forget the kind of cricketer de Kock can be. Not since AB de Villiers had a cricketer so talented knocked down the selection doors in green and gold. de Kock, in every sense, if the word, is the future. If South Africa do not recognise it, they ought to.
Guiding him in the right direction, giving him motivation and spurring him on at Test level is their biggest challenge and Klaasen could just aid them in the process. Klaasen is good enough to get into the Test team for his batting alone, and could easily fit in for one of the underperforming top six or act as a seventh batsman given South Africa’s faltering batting order.
But his presence in the squad serves a bigger purpose. It boosts and motivates de Kock to perform better. The southpaw now knows that he needs to watch his back for another keeper, with mind-blowing temperament and all the skills required to thrive at this level is in the squad ready to push him out if he fails.
But who is to say they cannot play together. If South Africa can get their fast bowlers to be fit and firing, four bowlers in the longer format is more than enough. Klaasen and de Kock could both fit into the squad in this scenario and de Kock could even occupy his preferred no.7 position. A like-for-like replacement? Nah, more like a dual threat if South Africa can groom them both right.