28 December, 2008 – Melbourne.
In response to Australia's 394, South Africa were stuck in a rut at 184/7. Most of their famed batting line-up had been dismissed with JP Duminy, on his second Test match, being South Africa's lone hope of reducing the deficit.
Duminy not only reduced the margin but also gave the visitors a 65-run lead, scoring a valiant 166 off 340 balls, occupying the crease for close to eight hours. His 180-run association with No 10, Dale Steyn, set the platform for South Africa's surge midway through their innings.
Duminy, then 24, appeared so elegant and sublime on that evening at the MCG that it prompted Ian Chappell to compare the left-hander to the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting. "Judging by the cool approach and precise shot-making of Duminy... he's the young batsman most likely to usurp Ponting's (perceived No 1) title", Chappell had revealed a year later during the Champions League.
But after nearly a decade, Duminy announced his retirement from Test and First Class cricket with numbers that belie the kind of promise he showed in his first few Test matches.
"After a long and careful deliberation, I have decided to retire from First Class and Test match cricket with immediate effect. I have thoroughly enjoyed the privilege and opportunity to represent my country in 46 Tests and the Cape Cobras in 108 First Class matches over the last 16 years," Duminy said while announcing his decision to step aside from Tests.
In 46 Tests, he had made 2,013 runs at an average of 32.85, way too low for a top-order batsman from one of the best Test nations in the world. Significantly, he made just five more hundreds since that career-changing knock at Melbourne.
There is something about Duminy that establishes his class and quality. He has a pristine cover drive, some attractive leg side shots and a straight drive so elegant that a newbie might be forgiven for thinking that Duminy is the No 1 batsman in the world.
Yet, among these huge plus points rests a plethora of weaknesses. Susceptible against the short ball and off-spinners, Duminy has had a pretty tough time in Tests. At the start of his career, pundits dismissed these weaknesses as something Duminy could correct easily. But he never managed to rectify them.
From becoming Harbhajan Singh's bunny in India in the 2010 Test series to struggling against Mitchell Johnson's short ball, Duminy failed to build on his promise and translate his talent into runs. Yet, every now and then he produced an innings that made South Africa and the rest of the world sit up and take notice.
His 103 in Wellington against New Zealand from No 4, a 123 against the Australians in 2014 in Port Elizabeth when the rest of the Protea line-up folded up, another 100 that year at Galle on a crumbling pitch against Sri Lanka and 141 at Perth last year against Australia all made South Africa believe that Duminy would eventually unleash the beast in himself. But sadly, it never materialised.
Duminy displayed great promise early in his Test career but was inconsistent and faded away. pic.twitter.com/qi7J2lxTki
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) September 16, 2017
He remained susceptible to off-spinners and straight balls right through his career. In Tests, his lbw percentage of 29.73 is the highest for anyone who has played as many Tests as him. In the list of bowlers who dismissed him more often than not in Tests, Johnson and off-spinners take the front row. Johnson's short balls often troubled him and this is evident from his seven dismissals against the Aussie pacer in nine Tests. Nathan Lyon, Graeme Swann, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan, Moeen Ali, all had a pretty good time against the left-hander.
In 2016, South Africa were forced to drop him after a slew of poor scores during the England series. The southpaw even pondered retirement at that time but selector, Ashwell Prince, forced him to rethink his priorities and Duminy roared back to form with a double-hundred in the SunFoil series, South Africa's domestic First Class competition.
He came back into the Test side pretty soon and with AB de Villiers on his sabbatical, Faf du Plessis entrusted Duminy with the No 4 spot, a position occupied by greats of the game like Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Pollock, Michael Clarke, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mahela Jayawardene.
A hundred in Perth followed by another swashbuckling knock against Sri Lanka promised much but as had been the case right through his career, Duminy failed to build on those scores and remain consistent. When he was sent back to South Africa after the first Test against England earlier this year, Duminy knew that his chances of coming back had become slim.
With Temba Bavuma establishing himself in the Test team and de Villiers returning to the format, Duminy had little to look forward to. Moreover, the World Cup will arrive in two years and this makes his decision to concentrate on the shorter formats a sensible move. However, he would go down in the annals of South Africa's cricketing history as one of their most talented players, albeit an unfulfilled one.