Bloemfontein tour match looms large for AB de Villiers and JP Duminy

11 October 2017 - 16:43 By Telford Vice
A file photo of JP Duminy and AB de Villiers of South Africa at the crease.
A file photo of JP Duminy and AB de Villiers of South Africa at the crease.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Two of South African cricket’s brightest comets will come around again on Thursday. Or are they going?

One was last seen in a South Africa shirt in June‚ the other in July. Neither would have picked a meaningless game at the country’s most unlovely major ground for their return.

But it is what it is‚ and AB de Villiers and JP Duminy are part of the SA Invitation XI who will play a 50-over tour match against the touring Bangladeshis at Bloemfontein’s oft renamed oval‚ where unadorned concrete as grey as death itself crumbles gracelessly all around and the pitch is about as interesting as dandruff.

The fact that South Africa’s squad for the one-day series against Bangladesh‚ which starts down the road from Bloem in Kimberley on Sunday‚ was announced more than a week ago tells us all we need to know about the lack of importance of Wednesday’s match.

If the game held any relevance for the national selectors‚ who have not yet had the chance to see South Africa’s players in one-day action this season‚ they would have waited until it was over to pick the squad.

Instead this match’s only wider significance is to give the Bangladeshis the chance to attune themselves to white-ball cricket in South African conditions.

And‚ perchance‚ to convince them that should they win the toss it would be a good idea to bat first for a change.

But‚ for De Villiers and Duminy‚ the game looms larger than it has a right to.

It will be De Villiers’ first game since the third T20 against England in Cardiff in June‚ the Titans’ first-class match against the Warriors in Benoni at the weekend excepted.

Duminy last played at any significant level in the first test against England at Lord’s in July‚ which was followed in September by his retirement from test and first-class cricket.

For De Villiers‚ who has chosen not to play in South Africa’s last 17 tests — or for more than a year-and-a-half — this is a chance to remind himself and the public what it means to be part of a South Africa team ahead of his anticipated comeback in the format against India in January.

Duminy will want to underline his white-ball worth now that he has given up a third of his international involvement‚ albeit in his weakest suit.

Both will be under pressure to perform; not because there are doubts about their ability but because South Africa’s teams might just have moved on from them.

South Africa have won 10 and lost only four of the tests they have played since De Villiers last graced them with his presence.

The fact that three of those defeats were suffered on the winter tour to England could be taken to mean a De Villiers-shaped vacuum looms in the middle of the batting order.

But‚ having scored five and 32 for the Titans‚ and as unfair as this will seem‚ he will need plenty of runs in the ODIs and T20s against Bangladesh if his value in the test team is not to be questioned.

Wednesday’s match is thus the start of De Villiers’s mission to quell those questions.

Duminy remains a respected ODI player‚ but he has gone a year and 10 completed innings without reaching 50 in the format.

Doing so on Wednesday won’t help him much‚ but it would be a step in the right direction.

Duminy will captain the side‚ a job he has done only 24 times in the 679 matches he has played since he turned for Western Province under-13s in December 1996.

He shouldn’t ask advice of De Villiers‚ who finally stood down as South Africa’s ODI captain in August following a tenure of five-and-a-half years that will be remembered by many chiefly for his struggles to maintain an acceptable over-rate.

Like comets‚ players come and go. Even the best and brightest of them‚ like De Villiers and Duminy.

They came a long time ago. Might they go in a blaze of glory?