JP Duminy made an unbeaten 50 on debut in South Africa’s successful chase of 414 in Perth in 2008 © PA Photos
When JP Duminy first travelled to Australia in 2008 he was, by his own admission, “just a kid”. There were few expectations on him – he only had an outside chance of playing in the three-Test series – until he exceeded all of them. That’s when he began to understand how severely responsibility could rest on his shoulders. With that, came intense pressure to perform.
“The difference [from then] is that I was a young kid, playing my debut Test against guys like Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden. It was quite intimidating,” Duminy said on the eve of South Africa’s first tour game under lights in Australia. “Now I am more established than I was then. I am coming into a Test series with a little bit more confidence and a little more stability in my role in the team and how I play Test cricket.”
To say Duminy has under-performed in the eight years since his debut is neither cruel nor critical. The numbers back it up.
To date, he has played only 36 Tests, added only three more centuries, and has an average of 32.44. He spent a period out of the side with injury – sustained when he returned to Australia in 2012 – but was also dropped twice. The current sentiment in South Africa is that he is a placeholder until someone more capable comes along.
Australia could be the place for Duminy to prove he can fulfill the potential he once showed. In the absence of AB de Villiers, South Africa need senior batsmen to step up. In the context of Duminy’s own career, he needs to step up. He has gone 11 matches without a century since the Galle Test in July 2014, when he got an unbeaten 100 at No. 8.
Though his opportunities are sometimes limited by a heavyweight top-order, he also went 11 innings in 2015 without passing 35 and was dumped for the Newlands Test against England last summer.
Duminy’s response was to score a double-hundred in a franchise match and force a return, but it was only when he struck an unbeaten 88 against New Zealand in South Africa’s last Test that he was reconsidered. Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s stand-in captain because AB de Villiers is injured, went as far as to say that Duminy’s best was yet to come. Some remain skeptical because Duminy has often threatened without following through, and with an in-form Rilee Rossouw in the squad, an immediate replacement is available if Duminy bombs.
JP Duminy has played only 36 Tests in eight years; his last century was in Galle, more than two years ago © AFP
That’s why, for Duminy, the lead-up to this series is more important than most and he said he could not have asked for better. “It’s the best preparation we’ve had on any tour, to be honest. I can’t recall this amount of time before a Test match on any tour,” he said. “We’ve got 10 to 14 days of training leading up to the first Test.”
South Africa arrived in Adelaide on Tuesday, 16 days before they take on Australia in Perth. They have two practice matches before the first Test – including a day-night game – and one between the second and third Tests. Their preparation is focused on the pink ball and playing under lights because this trip will be their first encounter with day-night Test cricket. Duminy said they will need some time to adapt “to that difference in colour and in light,” which will take “a few training sessions.”
The concerns for South African fans may be that with all the emphasis on Test cricket under lights, the team could forget that the first two matches will be played in normal conditions and if they don’t compete in those, the outcome of the day-night game could be redundant. Duminy allayed such fears, stressing South Africa were using the ample time they had to do as much as they can to win a third successive series in Australia.
“We are concentrating on staying in our bubble,” he said. “We are coming into this series with a bit of confidence on the back of our one-day series but we understand that it’s a clean slate. This is Test cricket. We are not looking at what the expectations are. We are looking to concentrate on our preparations. There might be a lot of banter being thrown around in the media but that’s not something we want to focus on.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo