Quinton de Kock’s Test retirement, a fortnight after his 29th birthday, sent shockwaves through the cricketing world, leading to renewed debate about the health of the longest format and its ability to appeal to the game’s top players.

De Kock’s situation may well be unique. He cited his desire to spend more time with his soon-to-grow family, while it’s hard not to draw a connection with the controversy surrounding his refusal to take a knee during the recent T20 World Cup. There are few established Test players quite as in demand on the franchise T20 circuit as he is, though if the very best are tempted elsewhere, it could be damaging.

Whatever the causes and impacts of de Kock’s decision, from a purely cricketing point of view, his departure is a significant one not just for South Africa, but for the world game. He was a wicketkeeper-batter who had already reached heights attained by few others throughout history. Given he was arguably only just entering his peak – his career-high 141 against West Indies earlier this year, in a game where all others scored slowly and no one else passed 62, also ranks as perhaps his best Test century – it’s not inconceivable that he could have ended his career with a body of work to match any other gloveman, even Australia’s Adam Gilchrist.

That might sound like hyperbole, but de Kock was already well on his way to breaking all manner of records. He had registered 3,250 runs as a wicketkeeper in a career spanning just under eight years. At that rate, he would have needed to continue for another six years, until the age of 35, to surpass Gilchrist’s record tally of 5,570 runs.

Gilchrist is often credited with having redefined the role of the wicketkeeper/batter, but in reality, few have been able to come close to matching his consistency and explosiveness. De Kock is the player to come closest. The pair are the only two glovemen in Test history to average more than 40 and strike at above 70 runs per 100 balls, with a minimum of 1,000 runs.

De Kock also ranks highly for match-defining scores, with six hundreds to his name, a tally bettered by only seven other glovemen. While Gilchrist’s 17 Test hundreds might have remained out of reach, Les Ames’ eight in third place would surely have been hauled in, with Andy Flower’s 12 in second also under threat.

Much of this assumes de Kock maintaining his level of output, but based on the last few years, an increase wasn’t beyond him, with the years between 29 and 32 often assumed as being a batter’s peak. While his best year came in 2016, in which de Kock averaged in excess of 60, he has averaged above his career record since the start of 2019, shrugging off an indifferent 2017 and 2018 to average 42.90 in that time.

While de Kock’s glovework rarely catches the eye as his pyrotechnic batting does, he has been more prolific behind the stumps than any other keeper in history. His rate of 2.37 dismissals per innings, earning him 232 catches and stumpings in 98 innings, is the best of any keeper with more than 20 Test dismissals effected. While this is in part down to South Africa’s enviable pace attack, it’s a rate that, if maintained, could have seen de Kock end his career right near the top of the charts. Another 78 innings would have been needed to overtake Gilchrist into second place.

So de Kock was a wicketkeeper who started out young, and yet, when entering his peak, he was already second only to Gilchrist on the measure of consistency combined with explosiveness. Ending with the most runs, the second most tons, and the second most dismissals of any keeper, at the least, was in his sights. Instead, it’s a career that will be considered unfulfilled, with de Kock 13th, joint eighth, and 12th on those tallies respectively. All that’s left is to watch him smash the white ball, and wonder what might have been.