Duminy prepares for more spin responsibilities
JP Duminy will not be drawn into discussing in detail exactly how he felt when the back of his ankle popped, as he described it last November in Brisbane, rupturing his Achilles' and condemning him to six months on the sidelines. But it must have been some shade of disappointment, especially considering the stage of his career he was in.
His replacement for the remainder of that series against Australia, Faf du Plessis, remembered Duminy being in "peak condition," at the time and predicted he would play a crucial role in the contest. Du Plessis' assessment was based on Duminy's form over the previous nine months - he scored a century on his comeback against New Zealand and an important 60 in South Africa's mace-winning victory over England at Lord's - and the increased responsibility the management team were about to give him.
In last November's Australia series, Duminy was due to graduate from a part-time bowler into a more important part of the attack. He was picked as the sole spinner in the Test he took no part in. It's been 11 months since then and South Africa have been given a second opportunity to see whether that strategy could work.
Russell Domingo, the coach, confirmed Duminy will slot back into the starting XI and that his bowling is one of the reasons for that. In conditions which are certain to offer something to the spinners and with a team make-up that seems uncertain to deviate from its seven batsmen-three seamer strategy, Duminy will have to play the role of the second spinner.
He seems to have identified that as being a job that will require holding up an end. "Consistency in my length is key to my bowling performance so that's what I am going to keep working on," he said. "There's a lot of responsibility that goes with bowling more. I am not going to put too much pressure on bowling miracle balls.
"So I've been bowling a lot because the amount of overs you put in gives you some confidence. And I've also been discussing fields and strategies with Claude Henderson (spin consultant). It's just about having game-plans in place, especially with the wickets turning more."
Duminy will have a first opportunity to sample his new job during South Africa's only warm-up match, a three-day affair against Pakistan A in Sharjah, which gets underway tomorrow. The match will be Duminy's second outing in whites since making his comeback in June.
Playing for South Africa A, he top-scored in the first innings with 84 and took three wickets in India A's first innings. Despite being in the squad for the second match as well, Duminy was thought to have done enough to show that he had not lost what it took to play in the longest format and he was not included in the next XI.
Lack of first-class game time is always a concern for players making comebacks but Duminy is confident of being able to get back into Test cricket habits quickly. "I am pretty happy to be slotting back in. Even though I had a long layoff, the last two months has been really good from a performance point of view so I am excited to be back in Test cricket again," he said. "It's just like riding a bike and I will be trying not to do too much differently."
The whole South African unit is thinking along the same lines and basing their game plan on doing things the same way they always have. But they also know keeping the challengers to their No.1 spot at bay will not be easy. Even beating Pakistan 2-0 in the UAE will only result in a gain of one point on the ranking. Any other outcome will result in them losing a point. That's why, despite the gap between the two sides (Pakistan are at No.6), this series is actually worth a lot more than face value suggests it is.
Duminy, for one, knows that. "We are coming here expected to do well being No.1. We are going to be under pressure. The quicker we accept that, the easier it will be," he said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent