ST LUCIA – Quinton de Kock was smiling again. And it wasn’t the sheepish grin he wore so often last summer.
It was the smile of a man unburdened. No longer must he worry about captaining, nor where he bats or that he has to be the team’s best batsman. He can just play.
It’s been a difficult few months for De Kock. He publicly admitted last year that he struggled with the prohibitive demands created by ‘bio bubbles.’ Then there was the captaincy, first of South Africa’s limited overs teams and then of the Test side.
He never looked comfortable and in Pakistan he was out of sorts – to put it mildly. Upon the team’s return and with the Australian Test series cancelled he asked for and was granted a ‘mental break.’
He showed plenty of patience in partnership with Rassie van der Dussen, steadily building South Africa’s lead in the first session. Even when Van der Dussen was dismissed, tentatively pushing at a delivery from Jason Holder that he edged to gully, De Kock remained cautious.
He shared partnerships of 43 for the fifth wicket with Van der Dussen(46) and 53 for the sixth
with Wiaan Mulder (25), content to occupy the crease and on a warm day in St. Lucia, sap the energy of the West Indies bowlers.
It was the West Indies’ decision to take the second new ball and the dismissal of Kagiso Rabada that brought about a change in De Kock’s approach. In the fourth over with that second new ball, De Kock twice launched the West Indies’ new fast bowling sensation Jayden Seales for six over mid wicket, with a four through the same region in between. That was the start.
De Kock would dominate the innings from there, brilliantly farming the strike in a ninth wicket partnership of 79 with Anrich Nortje who scored 7. The stand lasted 13 overs, with Nortje only needing to face 29 balls, a large portion of which came against Rahkeem Cornwall’s off-spin.
De Kock went to his century by clipping Kyle Mayers’ medium pace over deep backward square leg for six, and celebrated by showing his support for rhino conservation. A broad smile crossed his face. It was the sixth century of his career, his first in 11 matches, and one which took the match away from the West Indies.
He finished unbeaten on 141, a career-best performance that included 13 fours and seven sixes and came off only 170 balls. It was a remarkable performance from a player set free.
It also energised his teammates; Rabada bowled an excellent seven over spell, forcing the batsmen to play, intimidating them with pace and bounce. His rewards were to trap both Kraigg Brathwaite and concussion replacement, Kieran Powell, lbw.
The South African quicks continued where they left off in the first innings, although there were more short balls targeting the body. Nortje added the wickets of Shai Hope and Kyle Mayers, with help from Mulder in the slips.
The hosts ended the day trailing by 143 runs.