Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth December 22, 2008

Debutant Duminy lives the dream


JP Duminy: "It's something that definitely I will cherish for the rest of my life" © PA Photos
 

Test debuts don't come much more rewarding than the one JP Duminy experienced in Perth. He struck the winning runs in the second-highest chase of all time and with the same cover-driven three went to 50 not out, an invaluable innings that helped South Africa forget about their past heartbreaks against Australia. Duminy could have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about.

At 24 and having never played an international of any format against Australia, Duminy was free of the memories of South Africa's previous failures. The significance of the triumph certainly hit home as the squad celebrated that night. Veterans like Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher have spent more than a decade trying to get one up on these opponents, while many other great names have faded into retirement without tasting that success.

"A lot of the guys got text messages from guys that have been here and they sort of understand what this victory means to everyone," Duminy said. "I think we understand what it means to everyone back home and we're grateful for it. Hopefully we can pull off another victory."

But if Duminy didn't know the pain of losing to Australia he at least knew the disappointment of being a teenage fan of South Africa during some of their lowest moments. As a 15-year-old cricket nut, he watched on in horror as Allan Donald was run-out in the semi-final of the World Cup, leaving the match tied and sending Australia into the decider.

"I've lived through all those days of just near, nearby," Duminy said. "Definitely the World Cup in '99 [was the worst], especially with the run-out, I think I watched every ball of that game, so it was a bit painful."

Now Duminy is doing his part to help write a new chapter in South African cricket. The value of his innings at the WACA cannot be underestimated. When he came to the crease at the fall of the fourth wicket they still needed 111 and he was due to be followed by Boucher and then one of world cricket's less convincing lower orders.

He had also managed only one run in the first innings. Talk about pressure. But he was batting with AB de Villiers, a man he had grown up playing with in under-age representative teams, and rarely did Duminy look flustered as he calmly bunted away danger-balls, lofted the spinners with confidence down the ground, and cut with precision. He didn't look tense. He was.

"I just made sure that I didn't want to portray a sort of nervous, uncomfortable feeling out there," Duminy said. "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 spoke a lot in the middle about just facing it ball by ball."

When Duminy left the field the hugs from his team-mates were tighter than those afforded to de Villiers, whose century earned him the Man-of-the-Match award but whose calmness was less surprising as he was in his 47th Test. The captain Graeme Smith could not have been happier with Duminy's effort.

"It's incredible," Smith said after the match. "He's travelled with us for a period of time now, he's watched so many Test matches with us over the last year-and-a-half from the sidelines, probably gaining a bit of experience, seeing what it's all about. He's played his fair share of one-day games now so he's had a taste of it.

"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."

His opportunity arrived only because Ashwell Prince hurt his thumb and while Prince is no certainty for the Boxing Day Test, Duminy is resigned to losing his spot whenever the more experienced man is ready. His position may vanish but nothing can erase the mark he left on Test cricket in his debut match.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo