Wow, this Duminy ‘kid’ looks decent …

 JP Duminy (Gallo)
JP Duminy (Gallo)

Cape Town - It would have been even better had he been a raw 20-year-old, say, announcing himself for the Proteas as a stroke-player in a quite sizzling manner.

It’s the kind of pick-me-up development they need in one-day internationals, of course, especially following the cavernous gap left by the retirement of 9 577-run thrill machine AB de Villiers.

But we know that JP Duminy is instead in his 35th year, an infuriatingly enigmatic cricketer who has had as many “deaths” in the eyes of many observers as he has undergone all too many - and sometimes fleeting - rebirths.

Still, there was an audacity, an authority and an eye-opening fearlessness to his batting at Dambulla on Sunday that proved instrumental in South Africa’s heartening, ultimately comfortable five-wicket victory over Sri Lanka with 19 overs in hand, putting them 1-0 up in the five-game series.

This is a climate of unapologetic experimentation by coach Ottis Gibson and company with a next World Cup close (in England next May) in some respects, but also still suitably far away in terms of the luxury of fiddling with combinations and game-plans for the time being.

In terms of proven credentials with the blade from No 7 downward, the visitors looked ominously low-power on paper.

It left a serious onus on the more front-line figures in the order to produce the goods in pursuit of what you might brand a “tricky little target” in ‘Lankan conditions - given SA’s woes in the immediately prior Test series - of 194.

So nothing was yet cut and dried, that’s for sure, when Duminy took guard at 117 for three and, soon afterwards, saw his well-rooted captain Faf du Plessis succumb a little needlessly to a change-of-shot decision at the eleventh hour in a delivery.

But the Duminy who went about his business on Sunday looked anything but the so often grim-faced, bewildered, mortified character he can be when the cards just aren’t landing nicely for him, a hallmark he knows so darned well in an international career where personal stats just haven’t paralleled his undoubted talent.

More than prepared to reach into the Gobi from the Namib - or read: go a long way outside off-stump to “fetch” his frequent, almost unfailingly commanding sweeps against the spinners - Duminy simply had no plans to drag the contest into a white-knuckle ride.

“The mindset was to take it on,” he said in a post-match television interview, referring to the general team dynamic apparently intended beforehand, but also so profoundly applicable to his own attitude on the day.

And take it on the diminutive left-hander hungrily did, coming across, at least on this occasion, as every bit the seasoned maestro his now 185 caps in the format ought to suggest.

Duminy required only 32 balls (strike rate a De Villiers-like 165) for his clinical finishing job, his unbeaten 53 representing just his second half-century in Sri Lanka from 14 matches there.

The sequence of appearances stretches back to his maiden series as a rank novice, operating mostly around the No 8 spot, in distant 2004.

It hadn’t been the most glorious of ways to signal his longer-term ambitions, either, as his five knocks in that series saw him post 4, 22, 3, 0 and 0 – the third and fourth of those forgetful innings at the very same Dambulla he so enlivened on Sunday.

Fast-forward to the present, though, and the player provided a masterclass in how to take a game away from the opposition - and settle some butterflies on his own balcony - in no time at all.

This is a fitting time for Duminy to be oozing “senior pro” energy in the camp, and there is at least a hint now that the Proteas are righting their ship on the broader tour following the pain of the 2-0 Test humbling the Capetonian had played no part in.

Just as satisfying was that a 20-year-old was with him at the crease to help apply finishing touches to the ODI win, Wiaan Mulder also playing a handful of clean, punchy drives en route to his 14 not out.

It showed budding signs of strength of character on the Gautenger’s part, as his much earlier introduction as first-change bowler for the Proteas had been one laden with trauma: concession of 34 runs from three overs before playing no further part in an attack dominated by the rosy, four-wickets-each returns of Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi.

Look, Mulder’s an infinitely more genuine “kid”, and growth pains are inevitable.

Ask JP Duminy: you could almost say they’ve stalked him deep into adulthood …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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