JOHANNESBURG – Just how important is JP Duminy to South Africa’s chances of making it to the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup?
Depending on the mood, the day, the weather, the answer to that question ranges from "nah, not so much", to "he’s been rubbish since Australia", to "absolutely vital". And that’s just on social media, where opinions are rarely nuanced, shades of grey are simply not allowed, and if your opinion contrasts with another, then you’re simply an idiot.
I happen to think Duminy will be absolutely vital to the Proteas' chances in England later this year. He won’t be the reason they will make the final four, but his impact either way will be significant.
Duminy has arguably been judged more harshly than most cricketers from this country.
His talent and that 2008/09 tour of Australia put huge expectations on Duminy, which he probably hasn’t lived up to. Now, aged 34, Duminy will play his 200th ODI at the World Cup and the sense from many is that he hasn’t fulfilled his potential.
And yet for all that, Duminy remains crucial to South Africa’s chances.
His value cannot be measured purely by statistics. I’ve had enough people tell me on Twitter how poor his stats are against the other major contenders, or that he’s got a wretched record in England. He hasn’t won enough games, he’s not a good enough "finisher", his bowling is mediocre, he’s too soft, is just some of the criticism levelled at Duminy.
And yet no can tell me of a better option for South Africa. To be sure, that’s not the reason Duminy should be picked for the World Cup squad, nor is it the reason he’s so important to the Proteas' chances.
Duminy is a very experienced player, but it was only in the last year that he seems to have freed himself from the shackles of expectation that have weighed him down. Proteas coach Ottis Gibson and Duminy’s good pal Faf du Plessis deserve credit for helping Duminy to play "loose".
His Man of the Series performance in Sri Lanka last year was significant. He scored 227 runs, hit two fifties, with a top score of 92 and scored those runs at a strike rate of 135.92.
More than the numbers, though, it was the way he went about his work; it was a display of a new, aggressive attitude, one in keeping with how Du Plessis and Gibson want the side to play.
By his own admission Duminy knows that that one series is not enough. He knows he needs to be more consistent, which in one sense made it a pity that he had to undergo shoulder surgery and miss the trip to Australia, the Mzansi Super League and the series against Pakistan.
He’s back in the nets for the Cape Cobras ahead of the Momentum One-Day Cup that starts on February 8, which will give him some good game time ahead of the Sri Lanka ODI series that starts on March 3.
Hopefully he can rekindle the form he showed in Sri Lanka.
Duminy’s experience and the balance he provides the Proteas are hugely important. Du Plessis, Duminy and David Miller will provide the backbone of the batting in the middle order.
Duminy provides an extra bowling option too, which helps alleviate some of the pressure on Du Plessis by broadening the side’s strategy on any given day.
He makes the Proteas a better team and therefore makes their World Cup chances better, too.@shockerhess