Duminy 2.0 claims to be a refined model
The words "you hero, you superstar," probably rang in JP Duminy's ears for 15 months after television commentator Mark Nicholas used them to describe him. The praise had been elicited when Duminy scored 166 in his second Test, in a win over Australia at the MCG in December 2008. They became synonymous with Duminy and his potential. In February 2010, he probably stopped hearing them.
Scores of 7, 9, 0 and 6 in four innings had led to him being dropped from the Test side. The fairy tale had ended, the superstar had fallen, and the road back would be long. Now, he may have taken his first few steps on it.
"I knew with the form I had at that time I was always going to be left out then," Duminy admitted. "It was just about building confidence again and putting runs on the board for the team."
Apart from the string of low scores, there were technical issues Duminy faced, which resulted in him being dropped. He had been exposed as being vulnerable against the short ball by England, and then struggled against spin in India. If he hoped to make it as a Test cricketer, he would have to sort out those problems. Like so many before him, Duminy would have to go back to the first-class setup to work on his game.
Almost unnoticed to all but those who are dedicated watchers of South Africa's first-class competition, Duminy began to show improvement. He worked with the coaches at the Cobras franchise, Shukri Conrad and Richard Pybus, and with former national coach Corrie van Zyl to iron out his technique. Duminy did not play that many first-class games - seven in the last two seasons, including one for South Africa A against the touring Australians in November 2011 - but he did well enough to get noticed. Last season, he scored his first double-hundred and this season he racked up a century and two fifties.
The numbers probably do not matter as much as the technical improvements. It is hard to judge to what extent Duminy has corrected his weaknesses from one Test innings, but he insisted that the progress had been evident during his 76 not out in Wellington. "I have done a lot of work behind the scenes, so I'm fairly comfortable with the short stuff at the moment," Duminy said. New Zealand's bowlers have presented him with plenty of short balls during his stay at the crease and he has shown good judgment in keeping his pulls down or leaving the deliveries alone.
Duminy also said he had worked out how to handle spin. "I think I've gotten past the spin issue. It was generally offspin that troubled me a year or two ago. Like the short stuff, I worked hard at it." He admitted that he has not really been tested in that department by the current New Zealand attack. "Luckily for me they don't have a specialist offspinner in their side and I've always felt quite comfortable against left-arm spin."
While he has been out of the Test side, Duminy has continued to be a part of South Africa's plans in the limited-over formats. That may, he said, have made him approach his innings in Wellington with aggression. "I've played one-day cricket before this so that may be the cause of it. With the nerves kicking in, you just want to get bat on ball, but once I got into it I settled down and played my natural game."
Duminy got his first break in Test cricket because of an injury to Ashwell Prince, and his form ensured that Prince could not find his way back into the side. On this occasion, his opportunity came when Jacques Kallis strained a muscle in his neck during training on Thursday and did not recover in time to make the starting XI.
So far in Wellington, Duminy has handled himself with poise and confidence. He will perhaps not inspire as much enthusiasm as he did in Nicholas that day in Melbourne, and he will not be guaranteed a place in the near future. However, he has done enough to give the South African selectors reassurance that there is a competent replacement available for any of the middle-order batsmen.
Edited by Dustin Silgardo
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent