De Kock rises and shines above the circumstances of the series

De Kock scored 17 ODI centuries but rarely, if ever, beat as well as Sunday

De Kock scored 17 ODI centuries but has rarely, if ever, beaten as well as on Sunday ©AFP

“There’s so much to play for,” Nick Knight said on TV moments before England entered the pitch, and Janneman Malan and Quinton de Kock came out to open the baton, in a cloudy Headingley sunday. Knight was wrong. There was nothing to play for: no Super League World Cup points, no other ODIs for South Africa until October and for England until November, and therefore no real reason to bother to build a future filled with T20I and testing.

But that doesn’t matter to gamers who have spent most of their lives fueled by competitiveness. Toss the stumps, toss a coin, and watch them hit the switch, whether they’re in a garden, a ravine, or on the game’s most famous terrains. And especially when the match goes, weather permitting. lets, decide on a series.

Certainly, if someone said that De Kock Sunday’s debates were irrelevant, they weren’t listening. England’s bowlers and defenders looked flat – surely a consequence of playing their 10th game in a day over three weeks – and the pitch was a better one, but De Kock still needed to bring his A game to make the most of those advantages . He did just that with shot selection, timing and placement firmly set on the ridiculous side of the sublime.

De Kock missed a significant contribution to South Africa’s record England ODI tally – 333/5 – in Chester-le-Street on Tuesday, when Sam Curran beat him for 19. On Friday, in the throes of the visitors spiraling to their joint lowest tally in England – 83 – and being knocked out in the fewest deliveries by any opponent anywhere – 124 – De Kock made it five before head-butting a short cover by David Willey. He was the first out on Tuesday and, on Friday, the third of four South Africans dismissed, the total refusing to budge from six.

Other players might have taken heed on Sunday trying to erase thoughts of where their next big innings came from, even if they had, like De Kock, come to England having passed 50 in half of their 14 previous innings in the format and scored centuries in three of them. The deliveries that knocked him down in the first two games – a leg-cut on Tuesday, an outside swinger on Friday – had zigged the seam. Would he be too wary of movement and not play as freely as he could, as a result?

Malan took the first strike, so De Kock would have seen Reece Topley’s opening delivery veer through the air to the right-hander, who dabbed it in midwicket for a single. The second ball did much the same, flying away from southpaw De Kock, who rammed it into the covers for two. He played the shot with the ease and comfort of someone who never doubted he would do it.

It took 19 deliveries for De Kock to register the game’s first boundary, picking out a Willey inswinger from his pads and sending it through the midwicket with an intent that seemed preordained. Malan hit the next two fours in the space of three balls in the next, chasing Topley gracefully, then hitting him over the covers with his high, horizontal bat. Two deliveries later, Malan was out: his driving bat was advancing too far in front of his body and the ball was spinning limply towards the point.

Rassie van der Dussen, a one-hundred hero in Tuesday’s searing heat, looked like he had set his sights on another pile of runs when he helped De Kock to 50 from 39 balls – which he did done with four through the deep third and cover Adil Rashid’s first. two deliveries from the game. But, with the stand worth 75 of 69, Van der Dussen swept Rashid straight into the deep square leg hands and went for 26.

England’s closest to knocking out De Kock was in ninth, when Willey’s shot from midwicket missed with the South African diving well short of its pitch. Would he be defeated by the rain which interrupted the action in the 21st, when he was 69 years old? No. Or, as De Kock shouted after the replay nearly two hours later, when he was 91 and Aiden Markram wanted a curry single at Moeen Ali’s midwicket: “Nee! Nee! Nee! Nee !Nee!Nee!” It’s no, six times, in Afrikaans, if you hadn’t translated it yourself. Three balls later, with De Kock eight short of his century having faced 76 balls, the rain returned to drive the players off the field. Ninety minutes later, the match was abandoned.

Some will consider De Kock’s refusal a travesty. How could the gods be so cruel not to give him the hundred he so deserved? Others will be thankful they got to watch one of the finest rounds we’ll see; a thing of beauty and sophistication devoid of anything so discordant as bravado or brute force. De Kock has scored 17 ODI centuries but has rarely, if ever, beaten as well as Sunday.

At a press conference he was asked if his retirement from Test cricket in December, an announcement which was met with disbelief everywhere cricket is played, has made him a better player. He thought about the question for a moment, then said, “I don’t think so. I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest. I think I’ve always been a good white-ball player anyway, so I I don’t know if that’s it, I haven’t really looked into that.

That no one won a game that didn’t matter, except to decide a series that also didn’t matter, was neither here nor there. That De Kock was able to rise above the circumstances and beat like so much was at stake mattered far more. Sometimes not thinking about all that matters most.

It’s what sets the best apart, whether they’re playing in a garden, a ravine, or on the game’s most famous courts.

© Cricbuzz

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