India’s Test captain and most popular pin-up poster boy (now that Sachin Tendulkar has retired) has endorsement and sponsorship contracts worth at least $30-million a year. Virat Kohli is ruggedly good-looking and photogenic, and he knows it. He conducts press conferences in sleeveless shirts and flexes his biceps, flashing a grin for the cameras and delivering withering retorts to questions he doesn’t enjoy.
South Africa’s wicketkeeper hasn’t featured on any posters (yet) and would be highly uninterested if he did. Quinton de Kock is four years younger than Kohli but will never come close to matching his earning potential, although he is doing very nicely by South African standards, having recently been bought by the Indian Premier League franchise, Delhi Daredevils, for $560 000.
Unlike Kohli, De Kock does not use hair gel and appears to have little interest in his appearance. He has a few random tattoos, which look home-made, and he hangs out in baggy shorts and whatever T-shirt happens to be closest.
Kohli is acutely aware of the game’s history and his place in it, eager to learn about records and the possibility of breaking them, setting benchmarks for his own performance and for others to follow. Captaincy, however, has removed all traces of the selfish streak that once existed and he now ostentatiously prefers team success to individual glory.
De Kock has no idea about the game’s history and little inclination to learn. He receives news of records and statistics with the same enthusiasm a bachelor might accept a recipe for bran muffins from his grandmother. Life and circumstances change, naturally, but – having just turned 23 – there is more chance of De Kock becoming a master baker than a cricket captain.
What’s the connection? One of Kohli’s proudest and most eye-catching records was the number of one-day international (ODI) innings it took him to reach 10 centuries. He did it in just his 80th visit to the crease, well before many other greats of the limited-overs game.
Then along came a kid called Quinton, the uncut diamond from Jo’burg, serving notice on Kohli two years ago with three consecutive centuries against India, at the age of 20, providing a proper close-up look at the future. It was the first time anybody had ever scored a trio of hundreds in a three-match series.
A career-best, unbeaten 138 against England in Bloemfontein last week suggested he may have reached a new level on his ascent to greatness and a stunning, match-winning 135 in Centurion on Wednesday confirmed it.
It was his 55th innings in ODI cricket, and his 10th century.
Don’t be perturbed if you didn’t realise quite how good he was. It may be in your genes. South African cricket-lovers are slower than any other nation’s at recognising genius.
It wasn’t just Jacques Kallis who played for more than a decade before people stopped taking him for granted and realised what they were getting for their admission fee.
Shaun Pollock had also entered the game’s Hall of Fame before his countrymen realised it, as had AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. Amla, in fact, is the only man between De Kock and Kohli to have reached 10 centuries in just 57 innings and is the fastest to every landmark up to and including his 22nd century, which he scored alongside De Kock in Centurion on Tuesday, his 126th innings.
Kohli is the fastest to 25 tons from 162 innings but, at their current rate, both South African openers will beat that arc comfortably.
De Kock currently scores a century in 18.2% of his innings, Amla 17.5%. They are comfortably ahead of anyone else who has ever played ODI cricket, in any era. No wonder De Kock is learning so fast. He is in the best company of all time.
A poor World Cup culminated in him being dropped from the Test team and a mini-meltdown when he was forced to play in the Africa T20 Cup at the beginning of the year.
But his love of the game has been rediscovered and, with careful management, South Africans can look forward to a decade and more of a batsman with the talent to be as prolific as Amla and as entertaining as AB de Villiers.