Johannesburg - While the announcement stunned the cricket world and his teammates, Quinton de Kock’s decision to quit Test cricket at 29 isn’t all that surprising.
There were concerns in the Proteas management ahead of the high profile series with India, about De Kock being in another “bio bubble”. Unlike when Sri Lanka toured last year, De Kock didn’t have wife Sasha and his dogs with him. Mrs De Kock is due to give birth to the couple’s first child in the coming days – the worry was how much her husband would be able to stay focussed on his job, even though he’d only be playing the one Test. There were plans within the Proteas set-up to make sure De Kock’s closest teammates stayed with him as often as possible, and kept things as light as they could.
Ultimately however, knowing he wouldn’t be returning to the “bubble” until after the Test series finished, De Kock decided to pack in the “whites” and the baggy Proteas cap. Test cricket, after 54 Tests, in nearly eight years was over.
Family and friends have always been critically important to De Kock, even in the earliest days of his professional career. They provide the much-needed distraction from cricket, a sport he loves, but one he hates talking about. However, with the demanding restrictions put in place to ensure international cricket could be played during the pandemic, De Kock was constantly being reminded about cricket, and had no means other than on-line to touch base with those close to him who provided the critical diversion from cricket life that he needed.
After the Sri Lanka series last season, he spoke sincerely about the mental difficulties for athletes forced to train and play while in “bio bubbles”.
Making him captain across all formats last season was a mistake, and the subsequent break after the Pakistan tour provided much-needed freedom before the cricket wheel started turning again with the home series against Pakistan, the IPL (played in two parts), tours to the West Indies, Ireland, Sri Lanka and then the T20 World Cup. There was a stop in England too, to fulfil a contract he’d signed for The Hundred.
Something was gonna give, especially after the De Kock’s announced mid-year that Sasha was pregnant.
De Kock leaves the Test arena with a career that statistically looks outstanding – over 3 000 runs, six centuries, an average of 38.82 and 232 dismissals behind the stumps. There were series wins away in Australia (2016) and New Zealand (2017) where he was influential and home series success against India and Australia in a rip-roaring few months at the start of 2018.
However, it still feels like a Test career that is unfulfilled. De Kock had the chance to play a primary role in the rebuilding of the Proteas Test team, but he won’t now. How much will that impact on his legacy as a Test match player?
When the going was reasonably good, and the likes of Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel were around, De Kock’s care-free nature allowed him to flourish. His errors were masked by the presence of those great players.
In judging his best displays, it’s apparent De Kock is tougher than many give him credit for. Of his nine highest Test scores, eight were made when South Africa was in trouble. His 95 against England at SuperSport Park in 2019/20 came after South Africa was 111/5 in their first innings, while he made 91 against New Zealand in Wellington in 2017, having come to the crease at 79/5, turning what had been a position of dominance for the Black Caps into a win ultimately for the Proteas. Five of his six centuries were scored with South Africa five wickets down and less than 200 on the board.
Among those was his Test best 141 not out in St Lucia in June. However this current Proteas Test side needed more of that as it tries to grow amid limited opportunities to play the five-day game in the pandemic era. De Kock would have been essential to guide that process.
While he stated his intention to continue in the limited overs formats for the Proteas, there will certainly be concerns in Cricket SA circles about how long that will be the case. In 2022 there’s a T20 World Cup in Australia and then in 2023 a 50-over tournament in India. De Kock may well pack away all his international gear after that.
He will have the freedom to construct his own calendar, to give himself as much time as he wants with his family.
Ultimately, playing Test cricket just became too much of a burden.