x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Duminy's date with destiny

Great things are expected from the Proteas middle-order batsman and he is working hard to achieve them.

If JP Duminy is going to make good on Ian Chappell's prediction that he will one day usurp Ricky Ponting as batting's pre-eminent force, then he has picked a potted route. As role models go, the South African wunderkind, Duminy, could do a lot worse than the distinguished Australia captain, all 24,000-plus international runs of him.

However, it does not mean he has to mimic absolutely everything Ponting does. He can leave out the one about Graeme Swann. "I haven't had any nightmares about him," Duminy said of the England off-spinner, with the clear intimation being that he would be happier if he was not reminded of him, all the same. It has often been argued that Ponting's Achilles' heel - if a player who averages nearly 56 in Tests can have such a thing - has been exposed against high-quality off-spin. Damien Fleming, his former Australia colleague, implied as much in 2008 when he suggested India's bowlers should "put on a turban" - and then bowl like Harbhajan Singh, presumably.

England's Swann became Ponting's latest finger-spinning nemesis during last year's Ashes series in particular when he outfoxed him during a sublime over at Edgbaston. Duminy might have been taking notes back at home in South Africa. When England came touring over the winter, he could barely lay a bat on the Nottinghamshire twirler. "He had my number a couple of times in the Test series," admitted Duminy.

"I got some good balls against him which probably would have got a lot of other batsmen as well." If he does have a blind-spot against the turning ball, he is sure to be tested during the current tour of India, where the Proteas will be seeking to reclaim their No 1 mantle during a two-Test series starting in Nagpur on Saturday. On the back of a disappointing 1-1 home draw with England, plus the ensuing backroom fallout which has cost the Proteas their coach, as well as their whole selection panel, South Africa have a point to prove. As does Duminy. "There were two wickets in the way of us winning the series 3-1. We take the good with the bad," he added.

"It was disappointing for us as a team and a country. It was disappointing on a personal note. I want to put it right in the upcoming series against India. "It is going to be a tough series. There is a lot of talk about the No 1 spot, but as a team we are not worrying about that too much. We want to make sure we focus on what we are going there to try and achieve, which is to win the series - the No 1 tag is a bonus to us."

English cricket supporters may still need some convincing, but Australians and Indians already have compelling evidence of Duminy's prodigious talent. As shrewd a judge as Chappell, the former Australia captain, has him marked for greatness already. "He has shown enough in all three forms of the game to suggest he is the blueprint for the 21st century batsman," wrote Chappell. He made his claim after watching Duminy make a scintillating unbeaten 99 in the Twenty20 Champions League in India last October. The 25-year-old from Cape Town had already impressed Australian audiences in his first Test series, where he made 50 on debut as South Africa chased 414 to win in Perth, then followed up with 166 in Melbourne.

Chappell said Ponting will soon have to hand over his mantle to Duminy, and the youngster was shocked. "It is lovely to be put in the same shoes as him," he said. "Ricky Ponting is one of the best in the world and has been for a number of years now. "It is nice to hear that sort of praise but there is a long way for me to go to even get close to that. There is a lot of hard work ahead for me, but hopefully I will get there some day."

Even before Chappell had his say, Duminy had grown used to dealing with great expectations, especially after he commanded a colossal price tag, US$950,000 (Dh3.49m), in the Indial Premier League last February. "I was at home and my agent phoned me at 7am South African time and he said to me, 'Are you sitting down?'," he recalled. "I said, 'No, I'm laying down'. He told me what had happened and I couldn't believe it. To be honest, it took me a while for it to register.

"There is always going to be added pressure with that price tag on my head. I have dealt with it quite well over the past year and there is another IPL coming up now. There will be expectation as to what I can do there. All I can do is control the way I prepare, the way I plan for a game and give it my best." Duminy is likely to be a central attraction during the surfeit of Twenty20 cricket which follows South Africa's series in India.

The IPL is followed by the World Twenty20, which the UAE will attempt to reach for via the qualification competition on home soil, starting on Tuesday. The UAE's opener is against Kenya at the Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, at 2pm on February 9. Admission to all the matches is free. Meanwhile, Hashim Amla (72) and Jacques Kallis (63) showed early form ahead of the first Test against India with fluent half-centuries as the Proteas' two-day game against India's Board President's XI wound down to a draw in Nagpur. Duminy scored 39.

@Email:pradley@thenational.ae