Quinton de Kock likes a good catch. Not only behind the stumps, snaffling flying leather projectiles effortlessly, but also beside quaint lakes, with a graphite fishing rod in hand.
Eight years into international cricket, he’s not new to frantic calendars. Last year, he played cricket for 11 months. But in the only recess he could afford, de Kock and fishing buddy Dale Steyn back-packed to Tsimane, a fishing haunt 250-odd kilometres from Bolivia’s capital La Paz and tucked in the Bolivian National Park, where the Amazon jungle meets the Andes Mountains. All in search of the elusive Golden Dorado, a fish so sparkling in yellow that it seems carved out of gold.
Local myth says that the fish accidentally snuck out of the lake that flowed through the mythical gold city of El Dorado. Its stories have intoxicated anglers as much as the city of gold has enamoured treasure hunters. Spotting, let alone, hooking the fish is difficult. It’s notoriously aggressive, powerful and slippery. Ten days the two cricketers spent patiently for the prized catch. Those days, De Kock says, were beautiful. In the documentary Fishing and Living, Steyn chimed in: “Quinny was like a kid in a candy store.” He apprises his fishing style too: “He’s got stease: style with ease. He makes it look like he has been doing this all his life;” “Fishing,” De Kock says in a short video made by his bat sponsors GM, “is my life.” But to wriggle time to pursue his “life” has been difficult.
After all, he’s South Africa’s white-ball skipper, an indispensable cog for his IPL franchise, Mumbai Indians, the trophy-wielding machine for whom he has top-scored this season with 443 runs in 14 innings, striking at a rate of 135 and inevitably setting the tempo for their innings. Besides, rather quietly, he has not made his side feel the pinch of Rohit Sharma’s relatively indifferent season. Soon after the IPL, the international grind will restart.
Whether their search was as futile as the El Dorado quest is unknown, but de Kock learned valuable life lessons during his South American sojourn. “It’s more about being out there, in places that you don’t often see. You actually don’t fish that much and spend a lot of time reflecting,” he said during a virtual press conference two months ago.
Fishing is so much a part of his life that his social media accounts are full of fishing videos, often de Kock posing with a mackerel, a trout or barbel. When not fishing, he’s bow-hunting in the bushes. In the video titled Setshaba Safaris, he’s seen piercing a dart through the lungs of a nyala, of the antelope family. Later, he’s seen barbecuing his catch. He might be quite modest when speaking of his cricketing skills, but less so when the topic drifts to cooking. “I’m the best cook in the team,” he once told magazine New Frame. In all seriousness. Like with cricket and fishing, he keeps on learning too, tuning to his favourite chef Guy Fieri’s series, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives in spare time and taking IsiZulu (Bantu language) lessons to better comprehend his country’s complex culture. Now that he’s a captain, it would help him work closely with the black players in the team.
Thus, in an era of cricketers getting increasingly obsessed with their game, de Kock offers a refreshing difference. Someone who still sets time apart for his “life”. Someone who retains a slice of rural South Africa. A simple country-boy unstained by urban pretence and vaulting ambition, who was frank enough to admit that he didn’t touch a cricket bat during the lockdown, because he wanted some time with the family. Who was self-aware enough to refuse Test captaincy, because he didn’t need that extra stress. A brutally honest cricketer who doesn’t forget to live his life.
The school prodigy
De Kock’s movements have a hunter’s firmness than a dancer’s grace. He waits for the ball much before the bowler has marked his run-up. The eyes are calm and shiny. The sinews are still. Then as the bowler approaches him, the back foot makes a gentle nudge sideways. The front foot follows; the arms recoil, like a hunter readying to press the trigger. Then he produces a crackling gunshot of a stroke. It’s not grace that’s the soul of his batting but precision and perfection.
It’s this quality of strokes that caught the attention of his Physical Education teacher Eugene Marx at the King Edward VII School in Johannesburg. “There was a fluency about his strokes that was missing from kids of his age. Even at 14-15, he had every stroke in the book,” Marx tells The Indian Express.
Right from the sighting of de Kock, he knew his ward was destined to play international cricket. “I was so confident that I used to tell him back then, ‘I would pay money to watch just three cricketers — Herschelle Gibbs, Sachin Tendulkar and you.’ He would be in splits,” he recollects.
Marx’s preferences have changed — because Gibbs and Tendulkar have retired. So he just watches Virat Kohli and de Kock. On a serious note, he says: “I have seen many kids from the school become cricketers. We have produced the second-largest number of cricketers for the country, and I would readily say that he’s the finest among them.”
De Kock, though, was stocky. “He was a hooker in school rugby, so he had to be stocky, but once he started taking cricket seriously, and especially wicket-keeping, he started an intense fitness routine. He would just keep running round and round the school ground until he was dead to drop. He quit rugby because he feared getting injured,” Marx remembers.
Not just cricket and rugby, de Kock played squash and baseball too. Baseball for passion and squash for fitness. He was so good at the latter that he was once the junior number three. It enhanced his hand-eye coordination too. Picture some of his cross-batted strokes — those are more like cross-court forehands. For baseball, he trained outside the school, at the Randburg Mets Club. One of his friends and teammates was Gift Ngoepe, the first South African to play in Major League Baseball. His narrative is heart-warming — son of a domestic help, he used to live in the basement of the club and learn baseball, mostly a white sport in the country, just by watching the senior players. De Kock too nurtured baseball ambitions, but by the time he started getting offers from the US, he had struck an unshakeable bond with cricket.
There are some baseball traits in his cricket. But it’s not the obvious ones, says Marx. “For me, it’s throwing from the deep that baseball helped him develop. That’s one hell of a throw, quick, flat and accurate. The ’keeper needn’t move an inch to pick it. That just shows how good an athlete he is,” he says.
For most others, though, it’s his staple pick-up shot over midwicket. He just judges the length, leans forward and transfers his body weight into the shot. “I think he was born with it. I am not exaggerating, he had this shot when I first saw him. We didn’t touch it,” says Marx. When he burst on the domestic scene at 17, de Kock seamlessly got accustomed to the greener wickets of the Wanderers and SuperSport Park. It was at this age that he decided to forsake academics. A lot of people at his school persuaded him to stay back and complete his studies. But he had made his mind up. “He always held his ideals firm, and he made it big,” says Marx. He then turns the telly on. Far away from northern Johannesburg, in Sharjah, de Kock had just smacked a boundary in an IPL game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. With a hunter’s firmness than a dancer’s grace. And making his childhood coach burst with joy.
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