JP Duminy after failing to take a catch from England's Joe Root. Picture: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

In the build-up to the third Test against England, JP Duminy was released from the Proteas Test squad.

The move was explained away as logistical, as there are only so many squad members catered for in the itinerary.

As things stand, the South African selectors have opted to keep the budding Aiden Markram in the set-up, rather than the experienced left-hander, and that may be telling in the storied, if not gloried, tale of Duminy in the five-day game.

Now in the autumn of his career, one has to wonder if Duminy will ever grace the Test stage again.

Duminy, it was revealed by former Test batsman Ashwell Prince, very nearly quit Test cricket 18 months ago, having suffered a horrendous tour of India, and after being dropped during the home series against England.

He was talked out of that, reminded of the talents that once had him earmarked as South Africa’s answer to the classiest of run collectors in the world game. In full flight, there were few more precious sights to behold than that of a Duminy drive through the covers.

Authoritative, articulate and immaculately accurate, that single stroke made batting look simple.

Alas, those dizzy heights, when the full range of Duminy’s other strokes were in sync with that unerring trademark, were few and far between.

LEAN SPELL: Proteas’ batsman JP Duminy has averaged just 17.28, with a top score of 39 in his last 8 Test innings. Picture: BackpagePix

For too long, the southpaw wallowed in the valleys, and the peaks seemed to only pop up when there was a stay of execution to be administered. In Perth last November he suddenly found the fluency again, and strode to a century so clinical that Antipodean heads were scratched in bemusement.

Where was the brilliant debutant who had blazed 166 glorious runs of instruction at the MCG, way back in late 2008? Where were the numbers to tell the rest of what was assumed to be a bloomingly brilliant future in the game?

As South Africans who have observed Duminy over the past decade will wearily attest, the considerable smoke belied the lack of flames, as Duminy’s career never quite caught alight as anticipated after that glorious dawn in Melbourne.

The tale of Duminy reminds of that of Damien Martyn, of Australia.

He was just as stylish, equally lavished with early praise, and pencilled in as a future great.

One horror Test against South Africa, back in 1994, saw Martyn dropped for over five years.

In that time, he piled on domestic runs and perspective, and returned a better man.

The second coming was rich with runs and responsibility, and an urgency that spoke to the passing of time.

That eternal foe waits for no man, and Martyn made sure to not fade into the light, wondering what could have been.

Duminy has been part of a South African ‘golden generation’, the same age as Messrs De Villiers, Du Plessis, and not far off Hashim Amla.

They were expected to be the fulcrum of South Africa’s transition from Graeme Smith’s fearless travellers, into the next generation of dominators.

It never quite happened that way. Now, De Villiers doesn’t play Test cricket, and it appears Duminy may also be forced into that category of former Test player, sooner, rather than later.

He currently sits at 46 Test matches, with an average that is not quite his 33 years of age. Given the skills he showed as he made his first-class debut at 17 for Western Province, his overall return is a travesty, a betrayal of talent and faith shown in him by a rash of selection panels.

His Test cap is tattered, in a manner not dissimilar to that of those who have won a century of caps and more.

One would say his skills suggested he should have played 100 Tests, he should have scored thousands more runs, and won many more matches with individual brilliance.

Before he went to Australia, Duminy insisted he should only be judged at the end of his career.

The hope, clearly, was that he would use the next few years to beef up his numbers, combining experience and hunger anew.

As we have come to realise, that century in Perth was almost a parting shot, book-ending a Test career that had a pair of princely centuries in the most demanding territory in world cricket. In between those significant heights, there were considerable poor returns, including his latest offering in Proteas white.

His last outing was at Lord’s, and his final, faltering stroke a spliced pull off Mark Wood, in a wilting chase at the game’s headquarters.

The execution was bereft of certainty, and the selection of the stroke itself lacking in tact for a man so experienced. The murmurs in the press box began as he trudged off for a couple of runs, the weight of the world seemingly on his shoulders.

At that point, with Theunis de Bruyn having displayed significant scrap, Faf du Plessis returning from paternity leave, and with young Markram knocking on the door as Duminy himself had done a decade before, the writing was on the wall.

Duminy, in full flow, was a sight to behold. But, as he may well admit when the curtain finally falls on his career, that sight was far too fleeting, the flame far too fickle.

Sunday Tribune

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