June 28, 2017

Quinton and Keaton meet again

De Kock and Jennings shared a common cricket path till their under-19 days, after which the latter left South Africa for England

Keaton Jennings (capless) celebrates a wicket with Quinton de Kock and his other South Africa Under-19 team-mates in Cape Town, 2011 © Getty Images

Two schoolboys spent their summers preparing to become professional sportsmen and one took the road less travelled. Their paths will cross again over the next three days in Worcester, 13,500 kilometres from their original path in Johannesburg, and though theirs is the sort of story that is not new to the globalised world, its contrasts hold charms.

Twenty-five-year-old Keaton Jennings and 24-year-old Quinton de Kock are not just any pair of players, they are contemporaries of the closest kind. They attended the same school, King Edward VII, in the same year and played in the same teams, both batting left-handed.

While de Kock was the rebel who relied on sheer talent, Jennings was drilled to work meticulously on his game from the age of five under the guidance of his father and coach, Ray. As irony would have it, it was the carefree character who fared better early on.

"I remember our head of cricket at the time gave Quinton a free weekend - so he could leave hostel on a Friday night - if he got a hundred the weekend before," Jennings told ESPNcricinfo at the unofficial Test between the Lions and South Africa A in Canterbury last week. "And there weren't too many weekends he didn't get hundreds."

Any hint of envy Jennings might have had quickly evolved into admiration. "Quinton was a sensational player ever since I was 13. He was very driven, very clinical in the way he went about trying to achieve success in cricket. He hit the ball cleaner than most other guys."

It takes all sorts to make a solid batting line-up: the fearlessness of de Kock and the fastidiousness of Jennings. They progressed to the same provincial side and the national Under-19 team together.

The time Jennings spent fine-tuning his technique and his temperament had matured him. He emerged as a leader and was made captain of the side, while de Kock remained an explosive enigma. The pair took turns sharing the spotlight.

Less than a year apart, both Quinton de Kock (left) and Keaton Jennings are left-hand batsmen who started their careers in the same school © Getty Images

In early 2011, Jennings led the U-19 team to a 5-0 win over Zimbabwe and topped the batting charts. Later that year in England, de Kock was the leading run scorer. It seemed Jennings and de Kock would be in a race for franchise and, eventually, international honours, but Jennings had already been directed elsewhere.

Jennings senior, who was the coach of that U-19 side, encouraged Keaton to make use of the British passport he had courtesy his English mother and seek a career in the UK, because he thought his son would struggle against the "serious talent" that was coming through the South African system at the time - talent he had had a first-hand look at; talent like de Kock.

Perhaps Jennings senior realised de Kock would be the biggest obstacle in his son's way. As top-order batsmen, they could ultimately compete for a similar spot, and though de Kock was, by his own admission, not a big believer in hard work in the early years, Jennings must have known that could change. He pushed his son to apply the meticulousness he had learnt in South Africa to a county career, even as he grappled with the frustration of trying to tame de Kock at home.

"My dad is a passionate guy and he cares. If he is sitting on your back, it's because he cares about you and he sits on my back like nobody else's," Jennings said. "He will try and push you to new heights. It's when he turns the other way, that's when you worry."

De Kock was not as receptive to the disciplinarian style of Jennings senior and only began to see the value of extra work after he was picked for the South Africa side. In 2013, de Kock had a first stint at the highest level and a top score of 31 in his first seven ODIs. He knew that was not good enough and he went to his franchise coach, Geoffrey Toyana, to ask for extra hours in the nets. When de Kock returned to the South African side, he scored four hundreds in eight matches, including three consecutive centuries against India.

In that time, Jennings had been working his way up from the Durham Academy to the second side and eventually into the county first XI all while studying an accounting degree through the University of South Africa. In 2013, he tasted his first major success when Durham won the County Championship, but he then had to wait three more years before he would put on an international shirt. When he did, de Kock was among the first to congratulate him. "Quinton sent me a lovely message after I got picked for the India series, which was awesome after not hearing from him for a while," said Jennings, who went on to make a century on Test debut.

Keaton Jennings: "My life brought me here and I am really thankful it has. I am happy with the way things have worked out" © Getty Images

The two have continued to keep an eye on each other's careers, though they are not necessarily close. "I wouldn't say we're friends, we don't stay in touch, but I'd say we are friendly," Jennings said. "If we walk past each other, we catch up over a beer or chat about school times. When you're in different countries, it's hard to stay in touch with guys you went to school with."

Harder still, perhaps, because of their journeys continue to differ. De Kock is a regular on the international stage and a sought after T20 player in leagues around the world. Jennings has only played two Tests and, at the time of this interview, knew he was not necessarily a shoo-in for the South Africa series. The Lions squad included two other openers who are also vying for the English Test side: Haseeb Hameed and Mark Stoneman, who outscored Jennings.

"In a way, its healthy competition," Jennings said. "When you've got a lot of players scoring good runs, vying for limited opportunity at a Test level, that's really healthy. You put us all in the same side and we've all got to score runs in order to be picked and that's the main currency we deal in. It's a cutthroat environment and you need to score runs to be able to stay there. Simple as."

De Kock lives by the same mantra."See ball, hit ball," is the philosophy he underlined at the launch of the CSA's Global T20 last week. Even in the longest format, he has retained his aggression and Jennings knows how destructive he can be. "To see Quinton perform the way he is no surprise. To see the way he has handled international cricket is awesome."

Now Jennings wants to be able to show that he can handle it his own way, especially after having taken the scenic route. "When you're 13, that's the way you look at it [that you will play together as adults], but as you go up through the school levels, it doesn't. My life brought me here and I am really thankful it has," Jennings said. "I am happy with the way things have worked out and it would be awesome if I can play against him in a Test in a couple of weeks."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • francois on July 2, 2017, 1:35 GMT

    Yet another one bites the dust! SA can make upanother two teams just from rejects to other countries like England, Scotland, Ireland, OZ, NZ etc etc...We can have 3 of the best teams in the world actually... Good that Ray was honest to his son...itismuch easier playing and reaching the top in England than in SA...

  • diren on July 1, 2017, 8:18 GMT

    Truth be told that if Keaton stayed in SA it would of been hard for him to break into the team considering the talent that SA has. Remember the SA test team of the last decade had legends and were clearly the best cricket team on the planet (the records says so). For Keaton to get a spot it would of been impossible. He has a better chance in England as their batting stocks are really poor.

  • imran on July 1, 2017, 8:08 GMT

    He is one really fine.. I am his fan from day 1.

  • FawadAlam4Lyfe on June 30, 2017, 12:40 GMT

    3lions_rip. Completely agree. England's top level athletes go into football, which is why they did so well in the last Euro's.

  • Dennis on June 30, 2017, 9:44 GMT

    @Ashraf...Exactly, we have just one title in cricket and I hold Colly, KP and his boys in high regard. England don't get to play cricket with their best athletes as we lose them to Football and Rugby. So to win it with 2nd grade athletes makes it more memorable against top athletes from OZ and sub continent. I only wish to see England winning more silverware in cricket and don't care who wins it for us. How many nations can boast of winning world championships in Football, Rugby and Cricket besides England? The answer is NONE.

  • mabson9871691 on June 30, 2017, 9:03 GMT

    Keaton would have never made it in SA if we're being honest. Aiden is a better player than him

  • Clyde Chetty on June 30, 2017, 8:50 GMT

    @KERNEELSMERKII, fair enough. we have a poor political climate which is affecting our economy as well. In fairness, even in the 90's before something like quotas become as issue, people were leaving SA for the riches on offer in the UK, OZ, NZ, etc, and that is just a continuation now. Without belittling Keaton's or any other expat who tries to succeed in another country, SA has always had a huge talent pool to choose from especially in rugby and cricket. Think of how unlucky someone like Pothas was when he seemed nailed on to replace Richardson, and then Boucher arrived and played for almost 15 years. We've always thrown in these prodigies at a young age which basically sorted us for more than a decade. Quinny and KG are the latest to have a spot virtually guaranteed for the next 10 years, following AB, Kallis, Smith, Boucher, Ntini, Pollock, etc, and that's just players who have retired within the last 10 years. it leaves very few spaces open in a team.

  • Abhinav Dhar on June 30, 2017, 8:26 GMT

    I like the way the article is constructed, telling us de Kock was a bit of a enigma, and even in the article he is so, with not many quotes from him.

  • Andre on June 30, 2017, 7:27 GMT

    @ CLYDE - for clarity, I most certainly did not blame quotas, I just mentioned that the statement from Ray is loaded and probably has more to it than "talent coming through". My view is that 'quotas' is a symptom of a much wider issue in SA cricket (or even SA society), but the complexities and subtleties are beyond the scope of a comments section on a new website to debate.

  • Shehryar on June 30, 2017, 6:29 GMT

    @3LIONS_RIP how many ICC events have england won by the way? same as south africa, 1 World T20.

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