JP Duminy nowadays is far better cricketer in the shorter formats of the game than he is in Tests. It wasn’t always like that. In fact, years ago it was a fortuitous break in five-day cricket that revived his ODI career when it was going nowhere.
It was 2008. Duminy was already four years into his international career but was struggling to be a regular member of the South Africa ODI team owing his inconsistent form and abundance of talent in the side. A Test cap wasn’t anywhere on the horizon.
However, the Capetonian broke through in December 2008 when an injury to Ashwell Prince handed him an unlikely Test debut against Australia in Perth. He impressed immediately, scoring an unbeaten 50 in an epic chase that saw the Proteas achieve a mammoth 414 in the fourth innings. Duminy followed it up with an emphatic 166 in his next Test at the MCG to guide South Africa to their first-ever series win in Australia. Duminy now was the proverbial blue-eyed boy of South African cricket.
These two knocks ought to have provided an impetus to his Test career. If anything, though, it had a knock-on impact on his limited-over fortunes. It helped him earn a plum contract with Mumbai Indians in the IPL 2009. Thereafter, while Duminy got his act right in ODIs and T20s, mastering Tests strangely became an issue for the southpaw. Since his majestic knock at the MCG, he has scored 1078 runs in 42 innings at an average of 30.80. In the corresponding period, he averages 40 in ODIs and 42.35 in T20Is.
Consequently, while he a vital cog for the South African team in colours, in whites he lives in the shadows of the likes of Hashim Amla, AB deVilliers and Faf Du Plessis. He would like to set that record straight. There are few more challenging places than India to do so. But Duminy could look at it positively: No one will blame him alone for failure, but he pull its off, he will have carved his own identity.
A key figure
The 31-year-old continues to be a key figure in captain Hashim Amla’s scheme of things. His off-spin could prove a handful on a turning track, while his batting provides the Proteas some sort of cushion.
An injury during the ODI series ruled Duminy out of the first Test in Mohali, and it offset South Africa’s balance. And while his return to the second Test in Bangalore was far from perfect, Duminy exuded confidence of turning the tide in his favour.
He opined that coming from an injury break would only work to his advantage.
“I don’t think it (injury lay-off) bothers me too much. I missed two months before the first T20… sometimes a break can be good, just to get freshen up mentally. For me it’s just a case of focusing on what lies ahead and preparing accordingly. In the end, what happens in the game is out of my control…all I can do is to go out there and make sure I give my best,” he said.
Duminy concedes that the extra responsibility of bowling off-spin only adds to the burden of expectations. “There’s always that added pressure to contribute, and it’s more about my own expectation on myself. I pride myself on my performance. So I want to make sure that I’m contributing whether it’s turning or not.”
Much of South Africa’s travails in the Test series could be attributed to Ravichandran Ashwin’s spin. In fact, ahead of the first Test in Mohali, Faf Du Plessis had sort of foretold that the visitors’s fortunes would depend on the way they would play Ashwin.
Duminy, however, has a different take on this issue. While lavishing praise on the tall Indian off-spinner’s meteoric rise in world cricket, he said that if the Proteas played positively without focusing too much on individuals from the opposition, it would serve them well.
“You’ve got to give credit where it is due, and over the last 12 months or so, I would say he’s been the most successful international bowler in terms of spinners. But I also think he’s played in conditions that have suited him. We will definitely give him the respect he deserves…having said that, we pride ourselves on not focusing too much on the opposition.
“We understand what we’re going to be up against, but we need to understand how we’re going to negate that. If we can focus solely on that, we give ourselves the best chance of performing,” he said.
Ahead of South Africa’s third Test in Nagpur, the pitch will continue to hog the limelight. Duminy expects the strip to assist turn, and added this match could determine the outcome of the series. “To come of this series with a win is going to be a tough ask, but we know we can do it. We’ve just got to take it day by day, session by session, and make sure that we give it our best,” he added.