Will the Proteas miss Quinton de Kock in Test cricket? It depends what version of him you’re talking about, writes RYAN VREDE.
In the short time since he has retired from Test cricket, I’ve read a clutch of opinions and conspiracy theories about why this is. Those have ranged from lingering bitterness for the treatment he received following his refusal to kneel at the World Cup, to the politics within Cricket South Africa having worn him down.
Some have attacked his patriotism, intimating that he is money-hungry and will swell his pockets through participation in global T20 tournaments. I don’t think this was a primary driver for De Kock, but I will never get how these people infer a lack of patriotism on players who secure their financial future and protect their professional interests.
I don’t have any of these theories on De Kock’s decision. I only know that he and his wife are expecting their first child, and he wants to spend as much time with his family as possible.
How time impacts family, he says, is the reason he retired.
“In life, you can buy almost everything except for time, and right now, it’s time to do right by the people that mean the most to me,” he said.
I have no reason to question his motive for retirement. I don’t know his heart or mind. As a public figure, I’d expect him to have the emotional maturity to lay bare any additional reasons that contributed to this decision.
I’ve seen juvenile arguments that many of De Kock’s predecessors kept playing through this stage of their lives. I don’t understand the relevance of this argument. It is a wildly toxic mentality to determine that one man’s decision to play through this phase of his life is correct, and another’s decision not to makes him unpatriotic and weak.
I would have loved De Kock to keep playing Test cricket. He retires as a very good Test player. He could have been one of the great ones. To lament this is pointless, though. I remember him for what he was, and try to relinquish the thought of what he could have been.
Yet even the player that was is a complex mix of brilliance and, recently, observable internal struggle between heart and mind.
Living between bio-secure bubbles has hit all players hard, but De Kock seems to have been particularly badly affected. He has bemoaned it countless times, and has had to take regular mental health breaks to counter the effects.
The pressure of the Test captaincy compounded his pain. It was a job he took reluctantly, and one he did with the efficacy of a man with this posture. His batting performances waned (he averaged 12 as skipper) and the manner of his dismissals spoke to a mind that lacked peace and clarity.
Freeing him of this responsibility brought immediate success. He scored 141* and 96 against the West Indies in innings that were a throwback to the player people are referring to as being one the Proteas will greatly miss.
Yet, even then, somehow it felt like he was present but not invested. This happens in life. Partners in relationships can play their roles successfully even when they no longer love each other.
It felt like De Kock, grinded down by Test cricket’s demanding schedule, bubble life and the experience of captaincy, had fallen out of love with the format. He could perform his role, sure. But the love was lost.
Love makes you care, and in a cricketing context, De Kock’s carbon-copy dismissals in Centurion reflected a lack of care. This is not an accusation, just an observation.
In many ways I understand why De Kock could not care. Once the love was lost, De Kock couldn’t will his heart and mind to find it again. In cricket, as in relationships, time and absence may make the heart grow fonder. De Kock may find that all he needed was a break from the game, not a break-up with the game. At that point, he may find the love that is now missing. This is my hope. When in love, he is a gift to cricket.
Right now he is not. And I can’t miss a version of a player who is, understandably, not invested. Test cricket will consistently expose those whose heart and mind aren’t in it. The team needs a lover, not a fighter of mental demons.
The Proteas will miss the version of De Kock we once knew. But it won’t miss the version who has fallen out of love with the format.