“It’s Quinny’s world and we are all living in it,” a fan's placard read, as the batter heaved a mammoth leg-side six off Jimmy Neesham to bring up his fourth century of the ICC World Cup 2023, on 1 November.
During South Africa’s campaign opener against Sri Lanka, de Kock announced his arrival in what is his swansong with an 84-ball century. However, fans celebrated the ton as though it was a cross-fading knock before he hung up his boots. Clueless about what was going to unfold next.
It was not because the wicket-keeper batter had admitted at several occasions that he doesn’t fancy the 50-over format of white ball cricket, but because his performance in the said set-up prior to the tournament isn't as swanky – he had not scored an ODI hundred in 20 months.
A Different de Kock
However, his string of centuries bears witness to his preparation for his last dance.
A vital cog in the Proteas' line-up coming into the tournament, de Kock has lightened up the big stage with his exceptional batting prowess. A conventional brutal hitter, he has treaded a discrete course this time to pile up runs. De Kock is employing a combination of elegant strokes to gouge boundaries and half-a-dozens, run doubles, and rotate strike when facing bowling attacks such as chalk and cheese.
His second 91-ball expedition of three figures came against a bowling unit laced up with the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa & Pat Cummins. It would have been business as usual on any other venue, but on a pitch as tricky as Lucknow’s, de Kock’s aggressive shots seemed to be all but a painful reminder to the fans that these are the last of the modern day limited-overs great.
“It's a fantastic beginning to our World Cup campaign. I'm thoroughly enjoying my cricket. We aim to clinch the World Cup this time. Everyone in the team is giving their best and I believe that if we continue to put our best foot forward, we can achieve our desired goal,” an optimistic de Kock asserted after their 134-run win over five-time champions Australia.
Often criticised for faltering when it matters, the Proteas have put one hell of a statement this time that they are gunning for their maiden world title - a polite warning that one would avoid on their own perils.
“We are not dwelling on history and are determined to secure a top finish this time. Right from the start, we are on the right path and committed to seizing every opportunity,” de Kock would dismiss the label and remark.
That Knock Against Bangladesh
Comes the third hundred of the tournament on a familiar pitch –Wankhede – a ground where de Kock has enjoyed a lot of cricket during his Mumbai Indians days. A gobsmacking 140-ball 174 saw de Kock’s wagon wheel look picture-perfect. Graceful at first, and beasty later, was the method he chose to attack Bangladesh's spinners.
It wasn’t just a historic victory for the team, multiple personal milestones were also recorded:
The 174 against Bangladesh surpassed Adam Gilchrist's 149 in Australia's 2007 final victory over Sri Lanka to become the highest wicket keeper score in a World Cup game.
The highest individual score by a South African in the Men's World Cup is 174 by de Kock, trailing only by Gary Kirsten's 188 not out against the UAE in 1996.
After the match against Bangladesh, de Kock became only the sixth batter to have scored three hundred in a single Men’s World Cup edition.
“I’m sure a lot of guys love the format. I’m not going to speak on behalf of everyone. For myself, I've been doing it for a couple of years now, so I find it quite tiring,” he admitted on the eve of the Australia game.
Quinny’s latest century that came against the Kiwis was a demonstration of what he meant by those words.
On the brink of his fourth three-figure score, a nonchalant de Kock appeared to be giving up. There was miscommunication with Rassie van der Dussen which could easily have resulted in his wicket, had Mitchell Santner been more clinical.
But fortune did favour the brave, as he brought up yet another century.
In his last dance, 30-year-old de Kock has grabbed every opportunity to redefine his cricketing excellence. In seven games thus far, he has scored 545 runs, has a strike rate of 112.6 and a tournament average of 77.85. He has already surpassed the South African record of 485 runs in a single edition held by Jacques Kallis in 2007.
“It’s easy to score a hundred and then sort of take a back seat, but every single day that he comes to training and the games that he has played so far, you know, scoring three hundreds in five innings is a pretty special effort. Knowing the character that he is, he is certainly not going to rest on that,” South Africa's batting coach, Jean-Paul Duminy would say post his Bangladesh exploits.
The only record that he would be eyeing before the business end of the World Cup is going past his Indian opponent Rohit Sharma who has a fifer of hundreds to his credit.
The Bavuma-led side have two more fixtures in the league stage left - one against the host nation at the Eden Gardens and the last at Narendra Modi Stadium where they will take on the Afghans. Now, de Kock will shatter the Indian captain's record if his buffet of centuries continues.
“We all know Quinton to be the free-spirited guy that he is, but he actually has a fantastic cricket brain on him. He assesses the conditions really well and communicates that to us off the field even before we walk out to bat,” Aiden Markram opined.
Rightly so, de Kock’s adept wicket keeping skills, marked by quick reflexes and agility behind the stumps and his strategic acumen are the cornerstones of his stellar ODI career. And as he draws closer towards bidding adieu to the ODI-circuit, the lasts of Quinton de Kock would certainly be a marvel to behold.