De Kock enhances his Gilchrist comparison

Graphic: South Africa have won every Test in which Quinton de Kock has scored a 50 or more ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Kane Williamson does not seem like the kind of captain who gets angry enough to shout, but this may be the series where it starts. Three times - three bloody times - New Zealand had South Africa cornered and three bloody times, they could not finish them off.

In Dunedin, 22 for 3 became 252 for 5 and then 308 all out. At least Quinton de Kock did not have anything to do with that. But he had a lot to do with saving South Africa from 94 for 6 in Wellington, and just about everything to do with South Africa making 314 in Hamilton, after teetering on 190 for 6.

No wonder South Africa were willing to risk de Kock despite his tendon injury. Faf du Plessis wasn't exactly shouting it, but he made it clear that de Kock was considered too important a player to be left out of a crucial game, even though New Zealand were depleted and South Africa only needed to draw to win the series.

Perhaps that's a reason Williamson may keep his voice down when he analyses what happened at Seddon Park. Without Tim Southee and Trent Boult, New Zealand might have taken dismissing South Africa for 314. The disappointment will be that even with their second-choice attack, New Zealand had found a way through South Africa until de Kock stood in their way.

They aren't the only ones to suffer though. Sri Lanka, Australia and Zimbabwe were also unable to deal with de Kock, this summer particularly, and his performances have been damaging. Every time de Kock makes fifty or more, South Africa win. On all but one of those occasions - the 84 in the first innings in Perth last year - de Kock ensured South Africa topped 300, sometimes from positions where totals under 250 or even 200 seemed more likely.

"These are innings under pressure and just shows the mental capability of Quinton de Kock," Neil McKenzie, South Africa's batting coach and de Kock's former team-mate at Lions, said.

The secret to de Kock's thinking about the game, as his captain Faf du Plessis put it, is that he doesn't. So de Kock does not approach his innings by reacting to a situation, he just plays it in the moment. As New Zealand's bowling coach Shane Jurgensen put it: "Whether in T20, ODI and Test cricket, he bats the same way." That makes it difficult to put pressure on him.

Like any batsman, de Kock can start off a little shaky outside offstump. On the second day in Hamilton, he defended away from his body and almost chopped a good length ball from Matt Henry onto his stumps. Another batsman might have let that play on his mind, but de Kock struck a glorious straight drive off the next ball. A short memory sometimes helps.

De Kock has also forgotten the problems he had against Jeetan Patel - four dismissals in four innings, remember? - and dominated the offspinner. His second ball was threaded through backward point, and a slog sweep and a conventional sweep followed, in the space of 18 balls. By the time du Plessis was dismissed, de Kock had found his rhythm, and though he only had the lower order to work with he did not change his approach.

South Africa's tail can hold its own though. Kagiso Rabada notched up a career-best in Hamilton - and Morne Morkel had equalled his best in Wellington - and that gave de Kock the freedom to keep looking for runs and rotate strike.

The comparisons to Adam Gilchrist abound and McKenzie added his voice. "Gilchrist used to do that. You know if he stays there for an hour, he is going to have 30 or 40 runs and in a partnership with someone else, you're looking at 70 or 80 runs in that session.

"He scores quickly, so it has to be about trying to get him out. I don't think it is about getting him quiet. He has got too many options," McKenzie said. "He knows his game really well for a young guy. He is very expansive and technically very gifted in terms how he hits the ball, which is very late through the offside."

In their search for wickets, New Zealand relied too heavily on the short ball and allowed South Africa to get further away. It was only after the second new ball was taken that de Kock began shielding Rabada from the strike, as part of a team plan for de Kock to face more of the new ball.

That begs the question: if de Kock can navigate the second new ball so well, why don't South Africa use him against the first one? For the same reason New Zealand don't bat BJ Watling higher. Watling said the amount of concentration required for wicketkeeping necessitated a longer break than opening the innings would allow.

"There's not doubt he can move up but that could be a later question, if we were looking at an extra allrounder," McKenzie said. "For now, it's a very cushy No.7 spot for us. Seeing him walk in when we are in a bit of trouble gives the guys confidence." And may even make someone as calm as Williamson seem to want to shout a little bit.