Luckily there’s only a few more hours for anything else to go wrong in South African cricket in 2021.
It’s been the third annus horribilis in succession after the disaster that was the 2019 World Cup, the administrative chaos that followed in 2020, the band-aid which has been ripped off the racial wounds in 2021, the results that just don’t get consistently better and the people who continue to walk away.
South Africa is a country of the fatherless. In a study conducted in 2018 by Statistics South Africa, it was revealed that twice as many children in this country live with only their mothers than those who live with their fathers. de Kock does not want to add to those numbers, and the nature of cricket these days, with long tours in bio-secure environments, means that if he continues as an all-format player, he will spend a lot of time away from home. In 2021, he estimates he spent six-and-a-half months abroad and several more weeks in restricted environments at home.
That de Kock has the resources to make this admirable choice comes down to the privilege of being a professional sportsperson. Outside observers may think he took his talent for granted, especially because of the carefree way he played, but de Kock insists that was never the case.
“It’s not a decision I made overnight,” he said. “I really thought about it. It’s obviously a big decision because it’s the ultimate format of the game. I didn’t take this decision lightly. It was quite a tough one but I am doing what my heart is telling me is best.”
de Kock: ‘I’ve done exactly what my heart is telling me to do’
Although he only officially announced his Test retirement to his team-mates after the Boxing Day Test, de Kock had conversations with some of them individually in recent weeks. He remains “fully committed” to white-ball cricket but we don’t know if CSA is equally unwavering in their determination to use de Kock going forward. On numbers and reputation, they should be, but we’ve seen this go wrong too many times before.
There is a discussion to be had about whether CSA should join the modern world and consider single-format contracts like England or how to make room for T20 freelancers like West Indies, and de Kock’s Test retirement may prompt that process. But for that to happen, the administrators need to do something they don’t always do well: communicate.
Sponsors have stayed away, even for the biggest series of the summer. The vast majority of companies advertising in the stadium during the Test against India are Indian. South African corporates are spending their money elsewhere as they struggle to trust the suits at CSA. And they are not the only ones.
Again, there’s nuance to this because it’s not as though the board happened on a topic that hadn’t been discussed for more than a year before. It’s also not as though their request was outlandish, especially in a country with a history of racial discrimination. No-one, not even de Kock, should have needed it spelt out to them why making the worldwide accepted gesture in support of anti-racism was expected and essential for a South African. But de Kock was the only one who stood “a man in his own shoes,” as Temba Bavuma said, and defied his employers. It was a message which ultimately showed CSA that de Kock does not need them, and he won’t be the only one.
In the current set-up, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, David Miller, Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Heinrich Klaasen and Shamsi have all previously attracted IPL deals. Nortje is the only one who has been retained but at least some of the rest will be picked up in the auction and the money they make there is significantly bigger than their CSA contracts. That’s why Chris Morris has made himself unavailable for South Africa. He makes his money at the IPL. And leagues are not the only option. Wiaan Mulder and Olivier have current overseas player agreements with the English counties and Dean Elgar and Keshav Maharaj have had contracts in the past. The cricket economy is much bigger and richer than CSA can match and they don’t seem to understand the impact that will have on the talent pool.
Perhaps they wouldn’t have to if supply of quality cricketers was bottomless but South African domestic cricket is a shrinking product. The top-tier first-class competition has been reduced to seven matches a season and the Mzansi Super League is a thing of the past. Eventually, the well will run dry.
As for the man himself, what do the next few weeks hold? “I’m not too sure. I don’t know whether to be excited or nervous. It’s quite a big thing for me. When I was 19 or 20, I didn’t think I’d ever have kids, and at this moment, I’ve got one on the way. I really want to be there for the baby as she grows up. I really want to be part of her childhood. So I guess I’m quite nervous. But I’ll do what Quinny does and just take it as it comes.”
And that may be the best way to sign off from 2021.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent