South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 5, 2012

Duminy's difficult path to familiar ground

When JP Duminy had his first chance to play for South Africa it was through injury. Ashwell Prince's fracture on the eve of the Perth Test in 2008 gave Duminy his chance. To say he took it with both hands would explain both what kept Prince out of the side and how Duminy stayed in it.

Four years later, Duminy was picked again because of an injury - twice. Jacques Kallis' stiff neck in Wellington gave Duminy an opportunity in the batting order. He responded with a century. He would have probably lost his place despite that hundred immediately afterwards but when Mark Boucher's career ended with a freak eye injury, Duminy earned a more permanent spot in the Test XI and is a certain starter in Australia.

To the folk down under, it will be as though nothing has changed. Duminy is now, as he was then, in sublime touch. They may not know that for a while he was a batsman interrupted by poor form, clear weaknesses and a closing out of his spot in the team.

In 14 innings after the 2008-09 series in Australia, Duminy managed just 272 runs at an average of 19.43. The statistics were damning enough to result in him being dropped. What they don't tell is that Duminy had consistent problems against the short ball and off spin and was regularly dismissed by either.

His limited-overs game did not suffer similar setbacks and he continued to feature in that format, but in the longer version he was sent back to the first-class game to develop. A double hundred against Dolphins in December 2010 was a signal that Duminy had come full circle and he became a fringe player in the Test squad again. He had to join a queue, behind Prince and Jacques Rudolph and has only now become a regular again.

"It was tough at times. I was coming off such a high [in Australia] and it's difficult to maintain those sorts of performances," Duminy said, reflecting on his match-turning century at the MCG. "You will go through ups and down and I was fortunate enough to have good people around me to work through those problems. The circumstances of being brought back into the team were also tough with Boucher getting injured but it was about taking the opportunity as well."

His chances have come in an unusual fashion as the composition of South Africa's Test line-up has changed. Since Boucher retired, team management have opted to go with seven front-line batsmen to allow AB de Villiers to keep, although that does not seem to be a long-term option. Duminy slots in at No.7, behind Rudolph.

It lengthens South Africa's batting to the envy of other countries. Duminy has to play a bridging role between the batsmen and the tail, different to his usual middle-order batsmen. "One thing I have learned batting at No.7 and with the tail is that bowlers tend to forget about you," he said. "With bowlers not worrying about you, you tend to get more lose deliveries. They are happy to get you off strike."

That much was evident at Lord's in August when Duminy and Vernon Philander combined to take South Africa out of trouble. The England attack seemed to think they had got through the big guns but there was more to come. Duminy scored a half-century and Philander helped him ensure the bowlers had something to defend.

It is that sort of strength that South Africa are trying to develop and Duminy said he understands that he will be required to operate as both mender and match at No.7. "You get let off by some bowlers but you can find yourself in difficult situations with the team 100 for 5, so there are two ways to look at it. I think I have grown in that role in the last three Tests and I want to start cementing a long career in Test cricket."

There would be few places as illustrious to do that as Australia, especially since it was the scene of Duminy's breakthrough. He knows the hype will be around that but does not want it to dominate his mindset. "This is a starting point for me again. What's happened in the past is in the past."

Already it has been a successful second coming, he has had four innings, scored 271 runs at 45.17. It must be remembered that includes one not out, something that may become a more prominent feature in Duminy's statistics given his position in the batting order. Whether he will stay there or get bumped up a place when South Africa either decide to play a specialist gloveman or are forced to because of de Villiers' recurring injury, is a question for later on.

Duminy likes to talk about the future because he sees his as bright, starting with the current tour of Australia. He is looking forward to the new challenge, especially since the complexion of the hosts' bowling attack has changed since the first time he faced them. With young seamers stealing the spotlight and no Mitchell Johnson, South Africa may fancy their chances even more.

"This time, there is a little less experience," Duminy said. "With saying that, they have a quality attack. We're going to have to play well against them. If we can get through the initial parts of the Test match and be positive in the first innings we can do well."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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