Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st Test, Galle, 2nd day July 17, 2014

Improved Duminy dispels his spin demons

JP Duminy displayed how much he has progressed against spin on day two in Galle, with a composed innings on a dry pitch

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'Batting with tail was more crucial than hundred' - Duminy

Nagpur 2010.

Harbhajan Singh to JP Duminy. Swept. Missed. Rapped on the pads. Wicket.

Galle 2014.

Dilruwan Perera to JP Duminy. Swept. Again. Hundred.

If those two shots were the only record of JP Duminy's Test career, they would tell enough of its story to be satisfactory.

They do not tell of his achievements in Australasia, which include a century in his second Test to take South Africa to historic series win and a hundred on his comeback in New Zealand, but they do contain the major subplot of his career: spin. It used to be his nemesis. Now it is what he bowls and - more importantly - what he plays much, much better than he used to.

That Duminy had improved against spin was evident from his performances in limited-overs cricket. He was South Africa's highest run-scorer at the two most recent World T20s played in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He had a successful IPL 2014, albeit in an unsuccessful team. But after all that, there would still be doubts about how much actual progress he has made because the pressure of Test cricket is different. Specifically, the pressure of Test cricket in the subcontinent is different.

Now, there is a reason for those doubts to fade.

Duminy came in with South Africa in a relatively stable position even after they appeared to have squandered an advantage when they lost four wickets in the final session on the first day. The nightwatchman's dismissal left them on 290 for 6 - not enough to be comfortable if the last four went cheaply but with a foundation that could be built on. How much they could construct would be primarily up to Duminy and it did not take long for him to show he understood he would have to engineer the course of events.

Duminy had faced only four balls when Dilruwan Perera directed one at middle and leg-stump to him. There was no fine leg, or fielder of any description behind square on the leg side, so Duminy went down on one knee and scooped Perera over his shoulder.

Rather than it being a demonstration of cheek, which it was to some degree, it was a shot that showed an understanding for what needed to be done. Dean Elgar had said yesterday that run-scoring was easy when the ball was new. Duminy looked to be making use of that information and tried to play positively as soon as he arrived at the crease, when the ball was little more than 10 overs old. It was a smart move because it did not take too long for Duminy to see the effects of an abrasive surface on leather.

By the time Quinton de Kock was dismissed, Duminy had been batting for 45 minutes and could see the ball starting to grip and turn and puffs of dust bursting from the surface like steam out of vessels of boiling water. Four years ago that would have scared him, especially as there was only the tail to come. This time neither of those things had any effect on Duminy.

Rangana Herath came on to operate with Perera. Duminy swept. Herath tried to tempt him with flight. Duminy swept. Herath tried to hold the length back. Duminy swept. Herath tried them both again. Duminy reverse swept. Just for fun.

It helped that he did not have to shield Philander at all because the South Africa opening bowler is fast proving himself as the genuine allrounder those who have watched his career always knew he was. Philander played the patience game, knowing that the longer South Africa bit into the - relatively speaking - best batting conditions of the match, the better his chances with the ball would be.

His defences were solid, his disciplines as impeccable as they are when he is doing his main job, and he let Duminy dominate - if that word can be used on a day when run-scoring seemed as impossible to kick into second gear as a single-speed bicycle. That was the right thing to do because Duminy was playing with calm, confidence and the right level of concentration.

Gone were the days when he would hop outside his crease and then look around with dizzying confusion not knowing what to do. Gone were the days when Harbhajan could have him pushing outside the line or going back to play for turn that never arrived. When that happened back in 2010, Duminy was out for a first ball duck and then a 22-ball six. His runs from the two Tests amounted to just 15.

These days Duminy's approach against spin is organised. He seems to have more time to decide if he is going to go forward or stay back. He seems to be able to create room for himself outside the off stump and has a greater awareness of where that is. And he can sweep.

Sri Lanka's spinners did not present the same kind of danger as Harbhajan did in India in 2010. They were tireless but not always threatening. Duminy stopped short of describing Herath as predictable, calling him a bowler from whom you "know what you are going to get", who "doesn't have many variations" but also "hardly gives you a bad ball". Perera asked more questions, flighting it a little, holding it back on occasion, but Duminy had answers.

He managed all of that while still being part of the second- and third-highest partnerships of the innings. The eighth- and ninth-wicket stands were worth 75 and 66 runs respectively. Combined they provided almost a third of the total. South Africa have argued the merits of playing of seven specialist batsmen since they employed the strategy two years ago in England. If that seventh man is Duminy, few will complain.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent