Cape Town – It is proving a problematic summer so far for
acting captains of South Africa.
In the absence of that renowned calming and motivational
figure Faf du Plessis through injury, young Aiden Markram’s much-debated stint
in charge of the one-day international side only led to trauma in the results
column (an unexpectedly nasty 5-1 thumping from India) and poverty in his own
Markram, earlier in the season, was looking a million
dollars at the crease, whether at Test level against more modest foes – though
some heartening stuff against India too -- or in plundering runs for his Titans
But his stint in charge of the ODI side, apart from the
pulverising defeats that seemed to come dime a dozen, also led to something of
a correction in own performance – he ended the series with a modest 127 runs at
21.16 from six completed knocks.
Du Plessis still side-lined, veteran JP Duminy was then handed
the “armband” for the T20 portion of the Indian tour, and it was open to
dissenting thought as well as it came straight off his own under-delivery in
the ODIs (99 runs at 19.8).
He is off to a poor start in the quickfire, three-match
series, too, some of his tactics under scrutiny and a personal knock of just
three from seven balls at the packed Wanderers on Sunday only adding fuel to
the arguments of his considerable detractors that he shouldn’t even be on thin
ice for the Proteas: he should have tumbled through it some time ago.
So the next two matches (Centurion on Wednesday and his
long-time home venue of Newlands on Saturday) may well prove pivotal to his
survival in national colours.
The Proteas are out of the limited-overs loop for several
months from the end of this week, and in the interim period Duminy will turn 34
(in April) – a further reminder that he is no long-term prospect for South
If anything, he may warrant holding onto his T20 berth that
bit more firmly, which doubles the importance, you’d think, of him reminding of
those qualities in the next two fixtures against the still-rampant Indians.
The left-hander, with talent to spare but sadly a perplexing,
near career-long statistical shortfall at the highest levels of the game,
averages a decent 36.23 from his now 74 T20 internationals – superior, for
example, to both Du Plessis (36.09) and AB de Villiers (26.12).
But he comes up smelling far less of roses in ODIs, where a particularly
generous 184 appearances have seen him average only 36.95, a stat that does
little to scream that he is an invaluable member, broadly speaking, of the
Proteas’ plans in shorter-form cricket.
Remember that Duminy pulled the plug on his Test career – 46
games, batting average 32 – last year, and it was hoped the freeing of that
relative burden for him would translate into a beefing-up of his showings in
the other two arenas.
That still hasn’t really taken root, however, as the nominal
all-rounder flatters to deceive more often than not.
He will be all too aware of the mounting heat on him, and at
least had the honesty to admit after the latest instance of India tossing the
Proteas around like a rag doll on Sunday, that certain supposedly senior
figures in the experimental combo like himself “have to look ourselves in the
mirror, and how we can improve”.
In fairness, also, someone like the infuriatingly enigmatic,
supposed match-winner David Miller isn’t exactly covering himself in glory for
the Proteas’ one-day outfits at present; he is in the midst of a pronounced
batting slump encompassing both country and his Knights domestic side.
On his side, though, is that Miller is several years younger
than Duminy and will – or at least should -- be around for more than just the
next World Cup (England and Wales, 2019) and ICC World Twenty20 (Australia
For Duminy just at the moment, even a swansong at each of
those respective tournaments is looking a bit of a stretch, given a continuing trend
of glaring inconsistency -- unless he comes to the fore at either or both of
SuperSport Park and Newlands before the impressive Indians leave our shores.
While it is true that few obvious, alternative candidates
for his sometimes floating middle-order position present themselves from the
iffy franchise game, he will be only too aware that being a relative
“passenger” from a delivery point of view will be less viable once players like
Quinton de Kock, De Villiers and Du Plessis return to availability.
Not in his favour for the first clash – which also
determines whether the worryingly ragged Proteas stay in the series – is that
the Highveld weather looks ominous for Wednesday (18:00 scheduled start).
As much as any “match abandoned” possibility in midweek might
not be the worst development for the national side in their current, at-sixes-and-sevens
circumstances, Duminy may need to exploit two further chances at his batting
salvation for SA to the full …
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