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From De Kock to Hendricks, and back around cricket’s galaxy

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This time last week Quinton de Kock could do no wrong. Seven days on he doesn’t seem to be able to do much right. A week ago Reeza Hendricks was a fringe player in white-ball internationals. Now he seems a fixture in the T20I side. Welcome, pilgrim, to the South Africa chapters of the cricket hiker’s guide to the galaxy.

De Kock’s undefeated 92 in the third ODI at Headingley last Sunday reduced to an asterisk the fact that the match was washed out. When a batter plays as sublimely well as he did, like a zen master at home in their garden, the result cannot possibly matter. Don’t take our word for it. Here’s Socrates, the footballing philosopher doctor: “Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.”

But, in the T20I series that followed, De Kock made two, 15 and nought – only his fourth duck in 66 innings in the format. He was first out all three times, something that hadn’t befallen him in his previous nine trips to the T20I crease if we count as one of them Temba Bavuma retiring hurt against India in Rajkot in June.

On Sunday (July 31), De Kock played an uncharacteristically indecisive drive to the third ball of the match and, with no runs on the board, dragged David Willey onto his leg stump. De Kock has been part of six T20I opening stands that have been snuffed out for zero, but Sunday marked the first time his dismissal ended a barren partnership – he has tended to be part of the solution, not the problem.

None of which is to suggest that De Kock’s form is or is becoming a problem. He is South Africa’s leading run-scorer among current players in the formats he still bothers with, clearly the best batter of his generation in his country, and a long way from running out of steam or runs. So, when he does falter, we should pause for thoughts on the magic of even the magnificent being rendered mortal, if only for a moment.

Hendricks came to England having played in fewer than a quarter of South Africa’s white-ball games – 67 of a possible 278 – since his debut in a T20I against Australia in Adelaide in November 2014. He has since reeled off innings of 57, 53 and 70 in the T20I series and complicated the selection conversation for the World Cup in Australia in October and November.

The last South Africa player to hit a hat-trick of half-centuries in T20Is was De Kock, who scored 72, 60 and 60 against West Indies in Grenada in June and July 2021. Hashim Amla and Aiden Markram were the only other South Africans on that list before this series. For Hendricks to join it will make Victor Mpitsang and his panel sit up and take notice. Hendricks was probably on board for the World Cup already, but now he has staked a serious claim for a place as a first-choice opener. Where might that leave Bavuma, who is at least as valuable to his team as a captain as he is as a batter?

But such grown-up questions can wait. Sunday’s emphatic victory in Southampton clinched a series South Africa looked a long way from winning when they were bossed in Bristol as recently as Wednesday. Their 90-run triumph is their second biggest in T20Is and equals India’s win in Colombo in September 2012 as England’s heaviest defeat. It is also only South Africa’s second victory in the eight bilateral white-ball rubbers they have played in England, and their first since 1998.

This convincing success was achieved on the back of a total of 191/5, in which Hendricks shared stands of 55 off 35 with Rilee Rossouw and 87 off 61 with Markram, who made 51 off 36 in his only innings of the series and went on to put on 41 off 17 with David Miller. Then Tabraiz Shamsi – who was hit for 49 off three wicketless overs in the first match – took a career-best 5/24, which added to his 3/27 in Cardiff on Thursday made him the series’ leading wicket-taker.

“One day it’s my job, the next day somebody else takes wickets,” he said during his television interview about bouncing back from his bruising in Bristol. He also revealed a nugget of healthy domesticity: “My wife said she wants four wickets from me today, as if you can buy wickets at the supermarket.”

Shamsi, bowling with fine control of his variations, struck all five times as England lost their last eight wickets for 49 runs to crash to 101 all out in 16.4 overs. Only in three of their 154 T20Is have they been dismissed for lower totals.

It was a comeback, Shamsi told a press conference, built on silence: “Credit goes to the management and all the players, because nobody even had a word with me [after the first match]. That’s the best way to deal with something like that. It’s an anomaly. On a field like Bristol, which maybe looks bigger on TV, these things happen. We’re playing T20 cricket against world class players, and from time to time things like that might happen. I don’t think there was much to think about. I focused on what I know I can do best.”

David Miller confirmed, in his presser, Shamsi’s version: “We know the bowler that he is, we know what he’s capable of. If anything there were one or two pointers mentioned to him, just to remind him what he is capable of – to build his confidence up rather than tell him what to do, because he knows what to do.”

Eoin Morgan, on television commentary, concurred that England’s batting on Sunday had been “timid”. Even Jonny Bairstow, whose 30-ball 27 bore not a jot of resemblance to the 90 he hammered off 53 deliveries four days previously with the help of significantly smaller boundaries, seemed frozen in the headlights of the South Africans’ resurgence.

Sunday’s result means England’s only series wins in the past year have come in a Test series against New Zealand at home in June and, in the same month, an ODI rubber in the Netherlands. In that time they have lost Test series to Australia and West Indies, an ODI engagement with India, and T20I rubbers against West Indies, India and now South Africa.

So the home side would have been warmed by Shamsi’s respect for them: “When you’re playing against a team like England it’s really important to have a strong heart. They’re capable of hitting sixes and spoiling your day.”

If that doesn’t help ease their concerns, Douglas Adams had advice for them in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Don’t panic.”

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