Lucknow Super Giants stalwart Quinton de Kock’s easy-going demeanour hides a razor-sharp intellect and steely determination. Having left Test cricket behind and shed the pain and anger of being misunderstood about his intentions when he refused to take a knee in the T20 World Cup, the South African cricketer has taken fresh guard with a brand new IPL franchise and is raring to go.
Excerpts from an interaction…
The 52-ball 80 against Delhi Capitals showed you have hit your stride early with Lucknow Super Giants…
The whole team’s done really well. We’re disappointed to lose the last game (to Rajasthan Royals) but everyone is contributing. That’s been the key for us. It hasn’t been just one or two players.
To what extent has your T20 batting approach changed from, say, 2012, when you came under the South African selectors’ radar following a Champions League game for Lions against Mumbai Indians, to now?
The amount of T20 games has helped. Myself of 10 years ago, I was still a baby. I was still learning about cricket. I thought just like a kid… turn up and hit the ball, see it and play it. Now I’ve changed. I’m older. I see the game differently now. I play the situation. I’m a senior member of the teams I’m playing in. I like taking that responsibility of helping out captains and other senior players if I can and if they need my help. I just like to share my experiences these days, with youngsters too.
This is your fifth IPL team, so you’ve had an inside view of the tournament’s evolution. How have the demands changed from a player’s perspective?
It’s changed a little bit. The standard of the game is getting much higher. You watch all the local boys, how good they are at the young age of 20-odd, it’s quite ridiculous. The demand for good cricketers has grown. For every team, the demand to win a trophy is getting greater and greater. Of course, some teams have won it a lot more than others.
If T20 is as fickle as they say, why do some teams win the IPL a lot more than others?
I’m not too sure. They say winning is a habit, so it could be that. It could just be that once a team knows how to win a tournament, they have this confidence… they’re not scared to be natural because they’ve already set the highest standard. These small little factors play a big role.
Sunny Gavaskar is heaping much-deserved praise on our experienced maestro: @QuinnyDeKock69 #AbApniBaariHai💪… https://t.co/C6srStuYj8
— Lucknow Super Giants (@LucknowIPL) 1649773800000
So there is a better understanding now of the ‘T20 approach’, a common template to IPL success among franchises?
Not really. It’s just that the standards are getting better. When I first started, a team that has to chase 200 in a T20 would be very hesitant about their approach. These days, every batsman in every team is confident of chasing it down. They know how to go about it. That’s one of the big things from the IPL.
Bowlers have started to be clever too, more accurate. You see these death bowlers with big plans, big skills like the slower balls. Also, the fielding has improved immensely. Some of the catches that get taken on the boundary, that’s also changed from back in the day when I first started.
The boundary catches those days were few and far between. Now you see those (impossible) catches, it’s just a good catch now. You understand? Back in the day it was an amazing catch and now it’s just a good catch, because the guys have over the years learned to train for it. Back in the day it wasn’t practised but now it’s a key thing in the game. The game is changing every year.
Is that always a good thing?
It’s about the players evolving, changing. Take athleticism: guys are fitter, stronger now, more like professional athletes, just to become better cricketers. It does help. I don’t think it’s changing for the worse, it depends on how you see it. It’s making the cricketers better.
That said, I don’t see much of the game changing in the foreseeable future. Maybe when I’m done with cricket, who knows what would have changed by then.
It’s not just the IPL, I think world cricket is doing well. There’s the World Test Championship, I think it’s a good thing. Every international team has its own T20-based competition, which is really good. I don’t see any dangers or red lights at the moment.
Talking about dangers, how much have Tests lost relevance when it comes to appealing to the better crop of players emerging from the T20 scene?
I don’t know it’s lost too much. The players themselves all still love Test cricket. I speak to a lot of guys, a lot of them say Tests are still the ultimate form. However, the game itself is evolving, along with the players’ mindsets, which is a good thing (for Tests), which is what you want. At one stage I think Tests had lost a bit of stature but with the World Test Championship, there’s a bit more emphasis to the game. You’re not playing Test cricket just for Test cricket’s sake… now it’s like there’s a World Cup to be won, which is what I think the format needed. I think it’s great that they haven’t changed the ‘format and kept it traditional. The guys really enjoyed that.
Yet after 54 Tests, 6 hundreds, an average touching 40, the only wicketkeeper-batter from SA with a strike rate of 70, you decided to walk away from it all…
Obviously, it was a shock to everyone. But I made my decision and won’t go back on that now. It is what it is. Doesn’t take away the fact that I still love the game. I still watch the boys. The Bangladesh series, the India series, there’s still a lot that is exciting to watch but unfortunately, I’ve decided to part ways. My reasoning is kept to myself. It’s between me and my family.
Dale Steyn says you could have been a 100-Test man…
I don’t know about a 100 Tests because South Africa was only playing about six Tests a year, and I don’t think I was going to play another 10 years of Test cricket. I don’t think my body would have allowed it. It was a schoolboy dream to play 100 Tests but I’ve had to look at the reality of things and not think like a schoolboy anymore.
Quinton de Kock. (BCCI/IPL/PTI Photo)
The cricket economy is growing larger, which means most of the national board contracts, including those of the CSA, cannot match IPL deals or other league deals. Will this impact international cricket’s talent pool a few years from now?
Not too much. Every board has the responsibility to look after the players. There’s a big money gap between a lot of the countries but having said that, IPL is only 7 weeks, so there’s still lots of other cricket to be played for your country. It’s not really a red flag because it’s such a big thing for a player to come to the IPL.
There won’t be too much of a dispute with that because you want to give loyalty to your country and your board, but you would also like a bit of it back as a player. The conflict starts when the board doesn’t start showing loyalty back to players.
Is it time all boards adopted single-format, or format-specific, central contracts?
That is happening around the world now. That is the way to go about it. In CSA, I’ve only got a white-ball contract. You have to make sure it’s still the same sort of pay category or even more for the Test guys, just to ensure the IPL or white-ball formats don’t take over Tests. This is good and fair because you want Test cricket to stay and keep growing.
Some guys are naturally born for Test cricket, some guy’s natural game is for white-ball format. If you get a player who plays all formats, great. It doesn’t hold that you play only one format and want a contract for all three. I don’t think that’s how the world works.
LSG have packed their side with multi-utility players. Is that the way forward?
In T20, the more batsmen and bowlers you can have in the team, the better. The utility players add a lot of balance.
The IPL is like this huge melting pot of cultures, languages, backgrounds. . . have you taken a deep dive into that?
Not really. But when you play for so many teams, you meet new people and you start to make new friends and start to find out their backgrounds. It’s quite interesting to know where people have come from and what they’ve done to get where they are. In some cases, you can relate to some of the players. It’s interesting. It’s a good hub to be around. I’m not one of those guys who just sits around. I like to be part of it. I come from a background which is very mixed anyway. For me to meet someone different is very easy.
A lot of people worldwide did not know about your mixed-race family till your statement explaining the refusal to take a knee in the T20 World Cup. Looking back, would you have done things differently?
I would not have done anything differently. We all stand by what we believe in. I know how I am. I know I’m not a bad person. I’ve got nothing to hide. That’s why I wasn’t scared.
I think the board members, or whoever gave that directive (to compulsorily take a knee), could have done things differently, not just smack dab in the middle of a World Cup the morning before a game. The pressure was thrown onto the players, which was unnecessary. We had a lot of youngsters in the team.
Do you think sports stars with global appeal need to go beyond token gestures when it comes to addressing issues like race or gender inequality?
Every country has their own problems. There are problems around the world that each person can relate to. Back home we have gender-based violence. In SA it’s the biggest problem. As players we try our best to help out any way we can. In all honesty, we’re not natural-born activists. We’re cricketers but we are also at the same time influencers. Maybe we can’t change much in the communities, but we can help share awareness.
There’s a lot of people watching us, watching our Instagram, social media, so where we can help out as influencers, we try. But then a lot of players also don’t like doing things on social media, they like getting out and doing the hard yards behind closed doors.
I’ve seen guys get more applause for a post than the guys who are actually going out and making a difference. The communities we help, they can see what’s going on.
Finally, can Lucknow win this?
Yes, to win this competition would be great. For a first-time team, it would be spectacular!