From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.07 :: Feb. 18, 2010

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CRICKET / FEATURE

Expectations foisted on him

J. P. Duminy is one of those rare batsmen to whom a classical technique comes naturally, and after the magnificent performance in Australia, he was identified by several experts as world cricket’s next great batsman. But things haven’t gone to script since: in the seven matches that followed the tour of Australia (excluding the Nagpur Test) Duminy managed only 257 runs at 23.36. By S. Ram Mahesh.

There’s this story about J. P. Duminy that’s hard to believe if it isn’t for the authority of the narrator. Timothy Noakes, who has done pioneering work in the field of sports science at the University of Cape Town, told this astounding story during a visit to Chennai.

Professor Noakes was once involved with testing the reaction times of batsmen by mapping their brains. It was found that batsmen who played first-class cricket in South Africa took a fraction of a second to determine a bowler’s intentions from his hand at delivery; incredibly, Duminy, his brain showed, knew of the bowler’s designs even before delivery.

Any truth in the story? “There’s probably some truth in that,” says Duminy, laughing and looking slightly embarrassed. “It’s just young eyes. I was very young then, I’m still young.” The story gives a sense of the left-hander’s singular physical talents. Duminy is one of those rare batsmen to whom a classical technique (and batting left-handed despite being right-handed at everything else) comes naturally, and after the magnificent performance in Australia, he was identified by several experts as world cricket’s next great batsman. But things haven’t gone to script since: in the seven matches that followed the tour of Australia (excluding the Nagpur Test) Duminy managed only 257 runs at 23.36. What went wrong? “I don’t put it down to anything,” he says. “I think it’s just a bad patch. Obviously I’ve had a very good start to Test cricket and with that come a lot of expectations. To live up to that is hard.”

Surprisingly, Duminy says these aren’t his own expectations but those foisted on him. “It’s not really my own expectations but the expectations of the public or the media or whatever it is. I’ve obviously got expectations of myself, I pride myself on my performances, the expectations are high and it’s hard to live up to that as well,” he says. “But it’s more people expecting greatness of me all the time. Even the great players in the world don’t perform all the time. It’s just a case of everybody going through patches.”

The weight of expectations had subtly influenced the 25-year-old’s game. “With the expectations you try and do things differently,” he says. “As time goes on you learn that you have to keep things simple. You should stick to the things that work for you.” Kepler Wessels, who is in India as South Africa’s batting consultant, told him exactly this. “He asked me to stick to my beliefs and not try something different,” says Duminy.

Wessels wasn’t the only one Duminy sought out. Jacques Kallis, who has been South Africa’s best batsman for a decade, urged Duminy to become more aware of his game. “JP is learning his way to a little degree but he is an unbelievable player,” says Kallis. “He has to find the solution himself — what works for me might not work for other guys. He will know what works for me. He has had a fantastic start. Sometimes the second or third year is little bit tougher because people work you out and find out what your weaknesses are. He will come through it. I have no doubt about that. He is too good a player and the big runs are just round the corner.”

Duminy also benefited from picking the brains of Sachin Tendulkar, who more than anyone knows the troubles of a prodigy. “He has always been an idol and a hero of mine growing up,” says Duminy. “I’ve had some good chats with him.

“He’s the type of guy who’s very approachable and is willing to share his knowledge with anyone. I’m looking forward to the IPL so I can spend more time with him.”

Duminy is wary of making public the specifics of his preparation for batting in India; he did admit however that he spoke at length to Harbhajan Singh during his time with the Mumbai Indians. “He’s not passed on his secrets of doosra, but with me being an off-spinner as well, I tried to fit in as much as I could of his methods,” says Duminy.

For a man who takes most facets of preparation very seriously, Duminy isn’t finicky about how he manages his downtime. And what he’s willing to admit he does isn’t terribly exciting. “I’m pretty relaxed in my room,” he says of how he de-compresses. “I like to watch TV, surf the net. There’s not a lot to do in the room besides that.” Not quite the height of cool. But Duminy no longer concerns himself with what people think of him.



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