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Duminy's downward spiral

JP Duminy has struggled for runs in Tests over the last three-and-a-half years ESPNcricinfo Ltd

On his debut Test, against Australia in 2008, JP Duminy was involved in a historic run-chase: South Africa overhauled a fourth-innings target of 414 in Perth, the second-highest successful run-chase ever in Test history. Duminy's contribution to this mighty effort was a not-insignificant unbeaten 50, and his unbroken 111-run stand for the fifth wicket with AB de Villiers ensured a smooth chase, with no hiccups towards the end. In the next Test, on Boxing Day in Melbourne, Duminy made a superb 166, powering South Africa from 251 for 8 to 459, and played a key role in a nine-wicket win that sealed the series. Duminy was only 24 then, and it seemed South Africa had unearthed a gem who would be a mainstay in the middle order for years to come.

Eight years later, the narrative - from the Test perspective at least - has changed and is one of unfulfilled promise. His ODI and T20I records are healthy - he averages more than 38 in each - but in Tests he has slipped considerably. After 35 Tests, his batting average has dropped to less than 32, which hardly does justice to the potential that was obvious in his early performances.

Till the end of 2012, the Test numbers were still healthy: after 17 matches, he averaged 37.57. It wasn't earthshattering, but it was a solid base to build from: many top batsmen in Tests have averaged in the late 30s in the first few years, before going on a roll and taking that number much higher. Duminy was 28 at the end of 2012, an age which many believe is the start of the peak period for batsmen.

What has followed since, though, is anything but a player at the peak of his powers. It is true that he has also been unlucky with injuries, and has missed some of South Africa's 29 Tests since 2013 because of them, but even in the Tests he has played his numbers have been underwhelming. In his last 18 Tests he averages 27, with only six 30-plus scores in 28 innings during this period. He has gone 11 innings with a half-century, and in 14 innings since his last century, he averages 16.76, with only one 40-plus score.

There has been no such slump in the limited-overs formats, though: he averages 35.32 in ODIs (strike rate 83) and 50.14 in T20Is (SR 125) during this period.

Duminy began his Test career batting at No. 6, and has largely stayed there through his career so far, instead of moving up the order as most batsmen tend to. Of the 54 innings he has played, 26 have been at No. 6 and 17 at No. 7, while only six times he has batted higher than No. 6. One of those instances was against New Zealand in Wellington in 2012, when he scored 103 from No. 4, but that didn't lead to a more permanent spot higher up the order. In 43 innings at Nos. 6 and 7, Duminy's average is a mediocre 25.17, the lowest among the batsmen who have batted at least 25 times at these positions since December 2008. There are three wicketkeepers among the five players with the poorest averages at these positions, with the only other specialist batsman being another left-hander who bowls some offspin, Suresh Raina.

Duminy's average of 27.13 when batting in the top seven positions is also among the poorest for batsmen who have batted at those positions at least 40 times in the period since Duminy's debut. There are 73 batsmen in this list, and 69 of them have better averages than Duminy's. The only ones with poorer averages are Mohammad Ashraful, Lahiru Thirimanne and Daniel Flynn, and all of them are not in their current national teams.

Till about three years ago, South Africa's batting was in good hands, with Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith still around to add to the runs made by Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. Since their retirements, though, the batting has looked iffy: Amla had a poor 2015, while Faf du Plessis hasn't contributed consistently either. Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma have shown promise, but the onus is on the senior players to play bigger roles and show greater responsibility. South Africa have shown a fair amount of patience with Duminy; it is now time for Duminy to justify the faith placed in him.

* Excludes batsmen who have retired