South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 2nd day February 21, 2014

Duminy revives memory of Perth

His career may have been in the balance but, just as he did alongside AB de Villiers six years ago, JP Duminy produced an important innings when it mattered

Cullinan: Parnell could be the difference

JP Duminy probably should not have played this Test match. Before it, he was holding down his place in the side as a part-time bowler. If that sounds too harsh, consider that his previous seven innings yielded just 77 runs.

This story should probably not be about JP Duminy. AB de Villiers was the man that took over the South Africa recovery and stood it up. He was the one whose carefree calm made batting look smooth on a pitch where the ball appeared stuck to the surface at times. He was the one who cheekily beat the four short midwicket fielders Michael Clarke had planted to wait for the mistimed pull by going over the quartet when he smacked Peter Siddle for six.

De Villiers' is probably the century you will remember from this innings, Duminy's is the one you should not forget. It was only the third of his career but it could turn out to be the one that saves it.

There could not have been a clearer sign that it needed resuscitating when, after Dean Elgar was dismissed on the first afternoon, it was not Duminy but the debutant Quinton de Kock who strode in at No. 6. Duminy occupied that position in his last three Tests. Even though Duminy has batted at No. 7, with Jacques Kallis' retirement sending South Africa back to a more regular six specialist batsmen structure, it was thought the No. 6 spot was Duminy's to keep.

His demotion was a not-so-subtle hint that if runs did not come soon, he could go the same way as Robin Peterson. And his replacement, de Kock, was being teed up ahead of him.

What would have been more immediate in Duminy's mind was that, as he walked out to bat, South Africa had lost two wickets in the space of half an hour. A difficult day in which scoring had been laboured could have been handed to Australia had another wicket fallen at that point. Duminy's defence had to be almost as strong as it was when he faced Australia on debut in Perth six years ago.

Then, South Africa were chasing history. Kallis had been dismissed and the match was in the balance. Duminy was up against Mitchell Johnson and Siddle. He faced 24 balls that evening for just six runs. Now, South Africa are trying to build on the history they have already created. Duminy was up against Australia's slower bowlers in fading light. He faced 15 fairly innocuous deliveries for 2 and he may have resumed even more nervous than he was at the WACA.

In both situations, Duminy had de Villiers on the other end. That year, 2008, de Villiers was in one of the best streaks of his career. It was the calendar year in which he scored the most runs, 1061. This time, de Villiers has just played a 12th consecutive Test in which he has scored at least a fifty, surpassing a record held by Viv Richards, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. An in-form de Villiers is worth more to South Africa than just the runs he produces because, as he showed with Duminy then and now, he can usher another player to do the same.

With de Villiers well settled, Duminy had the time to play himself in without the pressure to do it quickly. He didn't even need too much of it. After looking in good touch before throwing it away against Australia last week, Duminy picked up from that this morning. He played Johnson with absolute assurance, even though Johnson had the new ball in hand, and sent his third over for 12 runs, which included a delicate touch on the leg side and the pull shot.

Australia did not use the second new ball as well as they did the first and could not suffocate South Africa in the same way. Although the surface continued to offer almost nothing at all, their disciplines were looser and they allowed de Villiers and Duminy to score at 4.5 runs an over for the first half hour, after they had battled to get the run rate above three throughout the first day.

The seamers were getting tired, understandably so. When they went to lunch wicketless, it was the first time since the Old Trafford Test last August that their bowlers had not struck in a session. After the break, that stretched to the longest they'd been in the field since March last year, against India in Hyderabad, longer than in two Ashes series and more than double the time they spent on the park in either innings in Centurion. It was starting to take its toll on them and work to Duminy's benefit.

To preserve his quicks, Clarke brought himself on, as well as using David Warner and Steven Smith. Sometimes using the lesser bowlers can cause a lapse in concentration but Duminy, being one himself, did not allow that to happen. He showed the same care against every bowler he was up against and showed his capability against the slower bowlers, with the sweep shot one of his best.

It was only fitting that was the stroke he played to bring up his century. It was powerfully played in front of square and greeted with a smile that told a story of relief. Duminy was still on one knee when the ball crossed the boundary. He looked down at his bat as if to thank it for serving him well in his hour of need and gave it a reaffirming shake, like he was taking someone by the hand.

Wayne Parnell was standing mid-pitch, applauding. Clarke, at first slip, was doing the same. The band were in full cry with "JP, jou lekker ding" ringing around St George's Park. Duminy stayed in that position until he realised he would have to get up. When he did it wasn't with a leap or an air punch. It was simply without the burden of being stuck in a rut.

He acknowledged everyone there was to recognise and then continued with the same seriousness, knowing the job was not done. His irritation when Parnell flashed at one the ball before tea and was caught behind illustrated that Duminy was still focused on batting South Africa into a position where they had a safety net.

He didn't do it for much longer. In the second over after tea, he was out reverse-sweeping off Lyon. But he did do it to the point where South Africa would have felt comfortable, to within three runs of their eventual total of 423. Earlier this week, Russell Domingo called Duminy a "class act", who South Africa will persist with because "he has done it before against Australia". Now he has done it again and at time when it mattered just as much as it did in 2008.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent