“We landed here, we saw the security that was going on and everyone became calmer”
“Those sharks are everywhere at the moment.”
Quinton de Kock was not talking about the security arrangements or the lurking spin threat from a Pakistan squad that has been bulked up with slower bowlers, but about a real life shark. That he caught.
De Kock spent a significant part of the 10 days between the end of the Sri Lanka series and South Africa’s trip to Pakistan fishing. Or is it sharking? And found that ragged-tooth sharks are plentiful and “pretty simple to catch.” His mind may have been wandering to fun in the great outdoors because currently he is both locked down in a bio-bubble and heavy security in Karachi.
Like the rest of the touring party, de Kock has been allowed out only to train so he hasn’t seen much of the country that South Africa last visited 14 years ago.
“We are across the road from the training facilities and we are only allowed in our rooms and the team room,” de Kock said when asked what he thought of Pakistan so far. “But the rooms look quite nice, at least. It’s not easy, from an emotional side and a mental side [to be isolated]. You are trying to keep yourself mentally stable and perform for your country.”
But even if there was no Covid-19, tours to Pakistan would remain strictly controlled, as the country is still considered a high-risk place from a security perspective (though not as high risk as before, given so many teams and players have toured in the past few years). It was that, and not global lockdown, that was top of South Africa’s mind according to de Kock when they made their way to Pakistan, on a charter plane after the last-minute cancellation of all Emirates flights into and out of South Africa until January 28.
“When we were coming here, security was a concern, if not the biggest concern,” de Kock said. “And then we landed here, we saw the security that was going on and everyone became calmer. Over the days, it’s become less worrying. We have been able to focus more on cricket. On the plane, people spoke about, ‘what about this and what about that?’ But we when we landed here we saw the amount of security – it’s something to be seen. They’ve taken so many measures, we can actually feel comfortable and focus on the cricket and not worry at all.”
“I’ve only been home for three weeks, if that, over the last five or six months. It’s been tough but I’m soldiering on.”
Quinton de Kock
South Africa are being afforded a state security presence, with Tabraiz Shamsi posting images of armed guards escorting the team from the airport to their base. They will receive similar treatment when traveling to the match venue and between cities.
Only one member of the squad, Faf du Plessis, has played in Pakistan and that was briefly for the World XI and in the PSL, and in white-ball cricket. No-one knows what to expect from conditions except that “spin and reverse swing plays a big part,” and the home side will want to use conditions to their advantage. “When we’ve played on Asian pitches in the past, I think they target this team specifically and they prepare dustbowls,” de Kock said.
Although coach Mark Boucher previously indicated that pitches in Pakistan don’t take as much turn as their Indian and Sri Lankan counterparts, the hosts’ squad, which includes left-arm spinners Nauman Ali and Mohammed Nawaz and offspinner Sajid Khan, in addition to legspinner Yasir Shah may indicate otherwise. “Those selections say a lot about where they want to go and how they want to prepare these wickets,” de Kock said.
South Africa will have to figure out how to deal with those bowlers without their long-serving analyst, Prasanna Agoram, whose contract has not been renewed. Agoram worked with the team for 11 years and his departure only came to de Kock’s attention “late last night.” De Kock was among several players who expressed the magnitude of Agoram’s absence. “A lot of guys took a lot of value from him and used him when it comes to analysis. It’s a tough thing to see him leave. Ever since I started here, he was here. It’s going to be tough to see him go but that’s the nature of the beast at the moment,” de Kock said.
Training is just about all South Africa’s players can do for the next few months as they move from a bubble in Pakistan to a similar environment at home against Australia, where they will remain to host Pakistan to end the summer. It allows them to keep doing their jobs, though de Kock continues to caution that it won’t be easy.
“You carry on because people want to watch good cricket and watch you perform. That’s something that keeps you motivated,” de Kock said. “But I’ve only been home for three weeks, if that, over the last five or six months. It’s been tough but I’m soldiering on.” With thoughts of fishing as far from his mind as he can get them, perhaps.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent