JP Duminy: A reliable all-rounder and a great finisher

JP Duminy © Getty Images

Born on April 14, 1984, Jean-Paul ‘JP’ Duminy is one of the most reliable all-rounders in the world. He is South Africa’s utility player and go-to guy whenever they find themselves in muddy waters; and more often than not, Duminy buoys his team out of trouble. Jaideep Vaidya looks back at his career so far.

There are players who get instant attention by scoring a hundred on Test debut; there are others who get five wickets in their first-ever Test. JP Duminy did neither of the two; he just scored one and 50 not out in the two innings of his debut Test. However, Duminy got much attention as he helped South Africa chase down 414 — the second-highest successful run-chase ever — and even hit the winning runs at Australia’s fortress of WACA, Perth, in December 2008.

Although Duminy was overshadowed by centurions Graeme Smith (108) and AB de Villiers (106 not out), he did leave some mark in people’s minds. Coming in to bat at 303 for four after Jacques Kallis’s (57) departure, with 111 more to win and just Mark Boucher to come before a listless tail began, South Africa’s position was precarious. They needed someone reliable to stick around with de Villiers, who was hitting the ball well. Duminy, 24, stepped up to the stage and delivered on debut.

“If Duminy was nervous, he did not show it,” wrote Peter Roebuck in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Instead, he concentrated on serving his side. Throughout, he retained his composure, dropping spinning deliveries at his toes with soft hands and not letting anything upset him. Once he had settled, he played several serene drives and later dared to step down the pitch to lift the spinner and to open the face of his bat to glide between the slips. It was a remarkable performance.”

“I didn’t want to portray a sort of nervous, uncomfortable feeling out there,” said Duminy, after the game. “I was definitely feeling the pressure but my main objective was just to soak up everything and take it ball by ball. Myself and AB [de Villiers] spoke a lot in the middle about just facing it ball by ball.” Easier said than done.

If Duminy’s contribution wasn’t appreciated enough by the outside world, which is unlikely, it definitely was by his teammates. After he drove the ball through the covers and sprinted across for three runs to bring up his fifty and score the winning runs, his ecstatic teammates hugged him even tighter than they did eventual Man of the Match de Villiers. Duminy, perhaps, did not realise it then but this was a victory that had been long, and I mean really long, coming. The Proteas had suffered many a heartbreak against the Australians, so to win a match like this at Perth was something beyond special and provided the right impetus to what turned out to be a landmark tour.

JP Duminy: A reliable all-rounder and a great finisher

JP Duminy… the go-to batsman for South Africa © Getty Images

Captain Smith perhaps appreciated his effort the best. “It’s incredible,” he said. “As I said to him now in terms of the pressure he faced today, he’s not going to get any worse probably ever in his Test career so he played superbly. A guy at this stage of his career, an innings like that can only really do wonders for him as a person.”

Smith was partially wrong in the sense that Duminy’s resolve and conviction was tested even further in the following Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Australia had posted 394 on the board after choosing to bat and South Africa were at a wobbly 126 for four when Duminy walked in at Smith’s (62) dismissal. Six runs later, he lost his safety net — the ever-reliable de Villiers. Nine runs after that, Boucher was gone. At 141 for six and a deficit of more than 250 runs, it seemed a lost cause what with South Africa’s tail not being particularly the most waggy.

However, in a miracle of sorts, Morne Morkel (21) and Paul Harris (39) stuck around long enough with Duminy to take the Proteas to 251 for eight. With around 140 more to clear the deficit, Dale Steyn walked in. What followed was one of the most remarkable South African ninth-wicket partnerships witnessed as Duminy and Steyn thwarted the Aussie bowlers into submission. Not many would have put their money on South Africa going past even 250 the way they were going till Boucher’s fall, but Duminy and Steyn’s determined effort took the Proteas past Australia’s score and gave them a lead of as many as 65 runs.

While Steyn scored 76, Duminy notched up his first hundred in Tests and went on to score 166 before being the last man out. South Africa went on to win the match by nine wickets and clinch the three-match series. It was the first time they had won a series in Australia, also making it the first time the Aussies had lost a home series in 16 years. If Duminy had not announced himself at Perth, he was blaring through the loudspeakers now. And to think he wouldn’t even have been in the playing XI had fellow left-hander Ashwell Prince not hurt his thumb. Duminy had been warming the bench for quite a while in the South African Test squad, after making a One-Day International (ODI) debut in 2004. It was the stuff of fables, almost. “I guess I have a lot to live up [to] now,” he said, after the match.

Jean-Paul Duminy, a Cape Coloured born in Strandfontein, made his mark in the South African domestic cricketing circles playing for his local Western Province. He labelled current South Africa coach Gary Kirsten as his “icon” growing up. “I think in my debut for my province back home, I walked out to bat and he [Kirsten] was on the other side. So, it was quite a great achievement for me coming into that game. But the funny thing was that he actually didn’t know my name at the time,” Duminy told the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) during an interview. In the coming years, he ensured that Kirsten and many others took notice of him.

After breaking into the Western Province team at the age of 18, JP went on to impress during South Africa’s U-19 tour of England in 2003 and made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against Sri Lanka a year later. Inconsistent performances along with a strong South African batting line-up ensured that the wait was long until he was allowed to have a go at a breakthrough series, and there must have been many moments when he doubted his abilities. “Being on the sidelines for most of the time, you have doubts in yourself — can you play at this level and so on,” he said after the MCG Test. “So, I’ve proved a lot to myself [in] this Test and the Test before.”

Duminy’s performance in that 2008-09 Australia tour got him a lucrative US$ 950,000 contract with the Indian Premier League (IPL) giants Mumbai Indians. The left-hander soon earned the label of being a reliable finisher and an excellent all-rounder, with the ability to bowl decent right-arm spin along with being part of a disciplined and unbelievably good South African fielding unit.

Duminy was the go-to guy when his team needed someone to anchor the middle and lower order in a Test; Duminy was the go-to guy when his team needed a quickfire 30-40 towards the end of a limited-overs innings; Duminy was the go-to guy when his captain needed someone to keep things tight from one end while bowling; Duminy was the go-to guy when his captain needed Velcro hands and agility at a certain fielding position. He soon became a permanent name on the South Africa team sheet in all three formats of the game.

Call it a freaky coincidence, but during South Africa’s next tour Down Under in the Australian summer of 2012-13, Duminy ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing rugby during a training session after Day One of the first Test, and has been out of the team since. Duminy was replaced in the team for the second and third Tests by a certain Faf du Plessis, who had been warming the benches for a while. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ashwell Prince never quite got back into the side after Duminy came in and it would be really unfortunate for the latter if history repeated itself. At the time of writing, Duminy is still recovering from the injury and it remains to be seen whether he makes a comeback, with du Plessis all but making the No 6 spot his.
The sprightly guy that he is, it would be unwise to rule it out.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog – The Mullygrubber )