WELLINGTON: South Africa’s Quinton de Kock was probably already feeling the most pressure of his fledgling international career before captain AB de Villiers dumped even more of it on his shoulders.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a match winner, and I’ve said it before that he’s going to play a big part in us winning this World Cup,” de Villiers told reporters after South Africa’s 146-run victory over UAE in Wellington on Thursday.
“When the push comes to shove … I really believe he’s going to play a big knock for us.”
The comment was undoubtedly double edged.
On one hand it was very public support for a player who has scored just 53 runs, 26 of them against UAE, in six innings at the World Cup and whose inclusion in the side has been the subject of much debate.
Former captain Graeme Smith suggested the 22-year-old should be dropped for the knockout phase and that de Villiers take the wicketkeeping gloves, something the captain is not keen to do.
De Villiers has previously said wicketkeeping exacerbated his back problems and that the role also affected his control of the game as captain. He repeated on Thursday that such a decision would be the last resort.
His statement, therefore, also sent a tacit warning to de Kock. ‘We expect better, time for you to step up’.
It is not the first time de Kock has been under pressure to meet high expectations since making his one-day debut against New Zealand in early 2013.
A dashing wicketkeeper-batsman in domestic cricket and former captain of the under-19 side, he was mentored by the retired Mark Boucher when he first made the national side.
Then Coach Gary Kirsten admitted he knew little about the left-hander, relying on his assistant, and current coach, Russell Domingo for information on him.
After eight matches of promising starts without kicking on he broke through with his first score above 40, a maiden century of 112 against Pakistan in late 2013.
He then went on to become the fifth man to score three successive one-day centuries, in December 2013 against India.
His carefree, exhilarating stroke play all around the wicket was lauded by former international cricketers and he was tipped as the man who could provide the ‘X-factor’ South Africa had been missing to win the World Cup.
He scored 80 not out against New Zealand last October and then 107 against Australia in Sydney last November, but rolled his ankle, tearing a ligament, in December.
Early indications were that he might struggle to be fit for the World Cup but he managed to play the final match of the one-day series against West Indies in January.
South Africa officials have since said his ankle was not a concern, while his lack of form was also not a huge issue.
“The expectation from a lot of people is that every time he bats, he is going to get runs and cricket does not work like that,” Domingo told cricket website ESPN Cricinfo last week.
“It’s a good time for a young player who has had a great start to his international career and this will be a good test for him to find the form he is capable of.”