Cape Town – His pure talent and occasional match-winning abilities hardly in doubt, JP Duminy should be at the very peak of his international career at age 31.
Instead he is flirting increasingly dangerously with the axe in both the Test and one-day international landscapes.
Only in the Twenty20 arena does his place look secure at present, and that is a source of some relief – to him and Proteas supporters -- given the looming ICC World T20 competition in India and the bilateral home mini-series against England and Australia immediately before it.
In that shortest format of them all, he boasts respective unbeaten knocks of 68 (Dharamsala) and 30 (Cuttack) in South Africa’s last two T20 internationals, as they beat India both times on their own intimidating turf.
His bowling has been acceptably economical for the country at that level too, although in the last 15 matches that the Proteas have played, he has only completed maximum four-over spells twice – just another sign that his secondary trade, in particular, seems to be going disturbingly backwards and that confidence in it from captains and coaches has progressively faded.
This is not how it was meant to be, given the hope when the colossal Jacques Kallis finally strode off into the sunset from all three codes – a process completed by mid-2014 -- that Duminy would be at least a partial solution as an all-rounder helping to restore vital balance to the side.
Not only is the all-rounder side of the bargain diminishing at a rate of knots (at least outside of the T20 landscape) for Duminy, but his batting is floundering as well.
Added to his known problems against the wiliest off-spin and occasionally also high-quality short-pitched pace bowling – though who is ever truly at ease there? – Duminy has developed a worrying penchant for losing his wicket “softly”.
It happened again in the defeat to England in the first ODI at Bloemfontein on Wednesday, where he completely misread a slower, gripping delivery from gangly left-arm seamer Reece Topley and spooned up an easy caught-and-bowled for 13 after working the ball about with some promise ahead of the mishap.
The dismissal rounded off a forgettable 147th ODI appearance for Duminy, who trudged back knowing also that his bowling had earlier taken damaging tap – 48 runs from five overs as his “shared” allocation with Farhaan Behardien again failed to cut the mustard.
That said, the pair were always going to be vulnerable to savage assault after the ill-disciplined mass failings of the Proteas’ supposed main strike bowlers at Mangaung Oval.
Unfortunately for Duminy, though, things appear to be inexplicably unravelling in most facets of the game for him and he cuts a rather sad, disillusioned figure these days. Or put it this way: that infectious grin when things are going his way has seen little service.
His ODI batting has lacked real assertiveness for the past year, whilst his off-breaks, which increasingly feature variations in his action that only seem to muddy the waters, have surrendered both their scalp-taking potential and ability to choke the flow of runs.
Over the course of his last 40 overs in seven ODIs, beginning with the winter trip to Bangladesh last year, Duminy has managed a mere two wickets at a cost of 261 runs.
Perhaps influenced by this statistical struggle in the shorter brand, Duminy’s Test leaders over a similar period – Hashim Amla and then more recently AB de Villiers – have marginalised his bowling in a major way.
He bowled a miserly six overs at Centurion and one at Kingsmead during the recent four-Test series against England, and a particularly lean – considering the dry, crumbling tracks – nine across three Tests in India a little earlier.
Perhaps the charismatic but astute commentator David “Bumble” Lloyd was correct recently when he suggested Duminy was a bowler with the cricketing equivalent of golf’s dreaded yips.
Might a return to a greater degree of simplicity and basic principles aid his resurrection? He has just looked a touch too desperate in his quest to be innovative as a spinner of late.
Relief hasn’t come for the often easy-on-the-eye left-hander at the Test crease, either: his last 10 innings there feature 143 runs at an average of just below 16.
The busy T20 phase of the season cannot come quickly enough for Duminy ... it just seems his most secure sanctuary right now.
But some restoration of spirits in the remaining 50-overs fare ahead of it would help.
He is under pressure to buck up with both bat and ball – an expected slower and possibly turning surface may help his latter chore -- in the second ODI in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
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