Proteas

Has Duminy done enough to keep his place?

2016-08-30 11:00
JP Duminy (Gallo)

Cape Town - The ongoing Test between South Africa and New Zealand is a crucially important one - not just for the Proteas but for South African sport. 

The Proteas have slipped to No 7 in the Test rankings, ahead of only the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. 

It is no place for a team that, under the guidance of Graeme Smith, dominated the world stage in the longer format for so long. 

Looking at the individual talent still on offer in this side - AB de Villiers (currently injured), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander - it is a tough pill to swallow for a public that has come to expect so much more. 

For that reason alone, a series win over the Black Caps (even if it is effectively in the form of a one-off Test) is important. 

When one factors in the struggles of the Springboks at the moment as well as the fact that Bafana Bafana take on Mauritania in a 'dead-rubber' 2017 Afcon qualifier on Friday, it becomes clear that South African sport needs a lift. 

But while this Test, which the Proteas will surely win, is of major significance in terms of the general mood accompanying our 'big three' sporting codes, it has also been a telling occasion for a couple of individuals in this team.

A few batsmen have gone about their business at Centurion with the spotlight firmly on them ... JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and Stiaan van Zyl in particular. 

With De Villiers and Dean Elgar out injured, and expected to return for the three-match series in Australia in November, there will certainly be some changes to the top order. 

The easiest of those to predict is Van Zyl - 35 and 5 in Pretoria - dropping out for De Villiers.

The classy left-hander has had a tough time, not passing 50 once in 16 attempts since a century on Test debut back in December 2014. 

But the return of Elgar makes things a little more complicated. 

Du Plessis, dropped from the side for the 4th Test against England early this year, has returned to remind the selectors of his ability with a quality century. 

That first innings marathon knock of 112* will surely be enough to cement his place in the starting XI for the first Test against the Aussies in Perth. 

Now, if Elgar is to return alongside Stephen Cook at the top of the order then De Kock will have to drop back down, possibly to No 7. 

That would mean that one of Amla, Duminy, Du Plessis or Themba Bavuma would have to make way. 

With Bavuma's international career just taking off, and with Amla and now Du Plessis practically undroppable, the future does not look bright for Duminy despite his resilient 88 in the first dig at Centurion. 

It was an innings that showcased Duminy's natural ability and versatility as he was promoted to the all-important No 4 position. He was streaky at times, but played some delightful strokes - his straight drive particularly impressive - on his way to his best Test score in 16 attempts. 

There has never been any doubt over Duminy's raw talent and it is rather his temperament in the longer format that comes into question. 

Unfortunately for Duminy, he was dismissed without scoring in the second innings, though the importance of that knock was almost completely extinguished by the dominance of the Proteas in the match. 

One way of keeping Duminy in the setup would be to continue with De Kock at the top of the order, meaning that Elgar would miss out. 

But that is unlikely for two reasons. 

Firstly, Elgar probably doesn't deserve to be left out after having been one of the grittier performers against England this past summer. 

Secondly, having your wicket-keeper open the batting in Test cricket is not ideal. 

It may seem an attractive option given how effortlessly De Kock succeeded in Pretoria, but it is surely not something Proteas management will consider long-term, especially with South Africa facing the prospect of long, physically demanding stints in the field in Australia. 

So, the Proteas top order may look like this in Aussie: Cook, Elgar, Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis, Bavuma, De Kock. 

It might be harsh on Duminy should he miss out after having thrived under pressure and out of position at Centurion, but a look at the past couple of years suggests that he has not nearly cashed in on his many opportunities.

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South Africa v Australia, Centurion 13:30
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