Cape Town - Number four is generally regarded
as the “heavyweight” batting spot ... the one where a cricket team’s premier
batsman, in many instances, is stationed for best possible impact.
Usually reasonably shielded from the
hazards of the new ball, yet also not low enough in the order to face the risk
of running low on sturdy partners, it tends to be the perfect berth from which
to knuckle down for a “biggie” in multi-day formats.
That is why, over the past few decades -
admittedly also a period marked by the dormancy of isolation - men like Graeme
Pollock, Daryll Cullinan, Jacques Kallis, and also Hashim Amla for a
self-favoured period while he was national captain, have been prior bastions of
solidity and consistent statistical success there.
In short, you want a pretty proven “rock”
in the position.
So there were plenty of surprised murmurs
among observers when the Proteas handed JP Duminy, his very place in the XI
under a cloud through recent under-performance, a promotion to No 4 on day one
of the first Test against New Zealand at Kingsmead on Friday.
The diminutive left-hander, not exactly
producing major scores at five, six or seven – he had one half-century, against
minnows Zimbabwe, from 14 Test innings ahead of the latest one – hardly seemed
tailor-made for elevation.
Yet he took guard at the fall of the second
Proteas wicket, significantly ahead of acting captain Faf du Plessis who had
been widely expected to fulfil the chore.
You would like to think it was a case of
thinking out of the box -- and in fairness South Africa have been accused
before of inflexibility and lack of initiative, so they might protest about a “damned
if we do, damned if we don’t” kind of unfair judgement in this instance.
Nevertheless, the only feasible explanation
to stalwart commentators like Kepler Wessels seemed that the host team wanted
to maintain a left-right combination at the crease to try to unsettle the Black
As it turned out, too, the move could
fairly emphatically be said to have bombed as Duminy, after champagne
boundaries via a straight drive and hook, was suckered into a soaring pull soon
after lunch and caught on the fence for 14.
As happened several times during a
frustrating day for SA enthusiasts, it occurred just when the Proteas seemed
tantalisingly set to seize at least a partial grip on proceedings.
Instead they looked the second-fiddlers at
stumps on 236 for eight after winning the toss on a surface which, based on the
imperious stroke-play on occasions of Amla and Temba Bavuma (best contributors
with 53 and 46 respectively) seems better than that for run-scoring potential.
The average total batting first at
Kingsmead is 301, so they will do very well to hit that mark from here, with
only Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and last man Dane Piedt remaining to engineer
The Proteas certainly aren’t in an iffy
position simply because of the decision to crank Duminy up the order – there
were several dismissals marked by impetuosity - but it is still a justifiable
We know he can play a bit, and every now
and then even a lot, but the Test landscape continues to be too doggedly one in
which he labours to cut it from a weight-of-runs perspective.
Following Friday’s latest flop, his average
after 34-and-a-half Tests has dipped to 31.93 and that hardly seems a figure
that cries out “No 4” invitingly.
Perhaps it was based on some kind of hunch,
either by him or someone else of influence in the camp, that he might flourish again
in that berth after doing notably well in a lone prior Test there against the
same foes in Wellington in 2012 – Duminy scored 103 and 33 not out.
But his batting at Test level has looked
shaky and indecisive for the most part since, regardless of position in the
order, and he barely seemed ready or suited to fill the blue-chip slot anew.
Wessels’ SuperSport co-commentator Robin
Peterson, himself a seasoned former international, suggested that perhaps
Duminy batting at four is a sign that when regular skipper AB de Villiers
returns to fitness, he will wish to occupy No 5.
And perhaps that is a dinner-table
conversation all of its own?
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing