Six months ago, Jean-Paul Duminy faced an agonisingly difficult decision. Continue to push through the pain barrier on the field and hope the right shoulder could keep going until the end of the World Cup — and then have the inevitable surgery? Or have the rotator cuff repaired immediately, miss most of the summer and run the risk of not recovering in time for what he knew would be his ODI swansong.
“It was a calculated gamble either way but, if I was going to play at the World Cup, I wanted it to be as close to 100% fit as possible and not carrying an old injury,” Duminy said.
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In the decades when South Africa was blessed with an endless stream of all rounders — from Hansie Cronje to Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje, Mark Boucher, Andrew Hall and many others — Duminy’s inclusion would have been far from certain. But now, having been regarded as a part-time bowler, his off-spin is seen as potentially vital to the balance of the team.
“That might be how it shapes up,” he admitted. “All I can do is be ready to step up, if required. There has been plenty of talk about how the wickets might become quite dry and abrasive as the tournament progresses, so spinners could play a role. If that’s the case then yes, I will be happy to play a more prominent role with the ball.”
Not that Duminy is placing undue pressure or expectation on himself. It’s an attitude captain Faf du Plessis has been encouraging amongst all the squad. "All we can do is our best," he told the squad. "If that’s not good enough on the day then we can walk away proud. There are six or seven teams who probably believe they should win it, and they can all beat each other on a given day."
“We understand the level of expectation amongst the nation’s supporters and our responsibility, you can’t hide from that. But to perform at your best you need to be calm and clear-headed, not clouded or confused by unrealistic targets. We need to be focused but relaxed. We have no right to expect anything — we are just one of 10 teams, all of whom deserve to be there,” Duminy said.
If ‘managing expectations’ is handled calmly, try the subject of South Africa’s reputation as ‘chokers’. Halfway through the question, which starts “how will you react when you are asked the inevitable…” and finished with “…will you laugh?” he starts laughing already. Not in a derisory or dismissive way, but a genuine way.
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“We have to completely own that question, and the answer. Nobody wants to dismiss it or wish it away, we can’t. By ‘own it’, I mean admit that we have choked in the past. There have been times we have been accused of choking when we haven’t, but there have been times when we have. The only way to get rid of that label is to win it. It might not be this year, but the Proteas will continue to battle until we do, however long it takes.”
Duminy agrees with the majority view that England and India are the stand-out favourites to win the World Cup but says there are “…at least six or seven teams which could win it. Now that the West Indies are at full strength they are very dangerous and Pakistan might not be playing well at the moment but they usually bring their best game to ICC events. New Zealand are very good at reaching semi-finals and, after reaching the final four years ago, why not them? Any team which reaches the last four can win it, obviously. Including us.”
Does he see any weaknesses in the England or India teams? Anything their opposition might be able to exploit? “Not really — not on the field,” says Duminy.
“Their only problem might be the weight of expectation and the intensity of the spotlight which will be shining on them. The media in the UK can be fierce…India are full of superstars and England has the extra pressure of playing at home. They will be hoping there aren’t off-field distractions.
“Hopefully that will also work to our advantage. Because we’re not amongst the favourites this time it will allow us to fly under the radar and go about our work quietly without too much attention being paid to us,” he says with a smile which suggests he knows that is wishful thinking.
South Africa’s greatest strength is also their biggest weakness. An incisive bowling attack led by Kagiso Rabada and including Lungi Ngidi and Imran Tahir also means they will be without the batting depth enjoyed by other teams. It’s hardly a secret.
“The bowling attack is one of the best in the tournament, we can bowl any team out on the day. But we are going to have to bat really, really well. The top order is going to have to perform because we don’t want to be putting the responsibility on the lower order to score the runs. It’s up to the top six to stand up and be counted. Just look at the scores in recent years in England, in county cricket, totals way in excess of 300 have become normal. Supposedly typical ‘green seamers’ are a thing of the past,” Duminy says.
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The tournament will be Duminy’s farewell to 50-over cricket — domestically as well as internationally. In fact, in a career twist which perfectly encapsulates the new, freelance approach of senior international players, Duminy has made himself available for Proteas T20 selection while not being available for his domestic franchise. He will be available for the T20 circuit, however — including South Africa’s Mzansi Super League, assuming it continues.
“I am incredibly fortunate to bow out of 50-over cricket at the World Cup, with the chance to do something special after 15 amazing years. I’ll definitely be taking it all in and enjoying the experience — with a strong focus on the job. After that, who knows? I’d love to be playing well enough to be considered for the Proteas T20 team and there is always a desire to be part of the IPL again.”
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