The former South Africa allrounder, who retired two years ago, is a strategic consultant for the team for the T20 World Cup
JP Duminy always wanted to be part of the upcoming T20 World Cup. He will be there, but not in the way he expected.
When Duminy announced his retirement from ODIs in March 2019, he remained available in the shortest format. During that tournament, he changed his mind and opted out of playing altogether. It didn’t take too long for him to find his way back, behind the microphone at first and now, as part of South Africa’s support staff.
“On Sunday, I was packing my bag and I realised I needed to go into the garage and take out my South African blazer and tie. It dawned on me that I didn’t think I would be pulling that out of the cupboard two years after retiring. That was an emotional moment,” Duminy said on Friday. “I was reminiscing on the good times I had when I was playing and how I am now coming back in a different capacity.”
Duminy’s official title is “strategic consultant” to the South African squad. It’s a short-term role, which he explained as “about trying to add value wherever I can”. “It’s not necessarily about honing in on a particular department or skill,” he explained. “The way I see it, having had the experience I’ve had over the last 15 years, how I can contribute is with the understanding from that experience and by being aware of things that may unfold in this tournament.
“I have played against many of these cricketers, and played with them, and I have relationships with all the players and staff that are in the mix in the South African squad so I am trying to see how I can add value to them in a personal capacity.”
Duminy sees a key part of his role as being to make sure the players’ experience is the opposite of his own open-ended position. “Role clarification is, if I put my player’s hat on, what players want. They want to make sure that when they go out and face those pressure moments there is clarity,” he said. “We want to make sure we provide them with enough information for them to find the answers as well. This is an environment, it is not a dictatorship. It is a facilitation of learning. If we are in a position to ask the right questions, we can collectively find the right answers.”
That may sound a little more philosophical than practical, but that’s the kind of approach Duminy has always taken. As a player, he measured his worth in his personhood, and not numbers. As a coach, he seems to want to judge the team on their impact on each other and society, not their victory count.
“People want to feel valued and like they belong. Having had the experience playing here for 15 years, I truly understand that. It doesn’t matter who you are, in terms of playing 100 games or one game, there’s always in inherent need to feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself. That’s what the Proteas is about,” he said. “It’s a representation of 60 million people and there’s great responsibility in that. So for me, it’s just talking people through that and understanding what that responsibility looks like.”
“They can go through some depressive states because they can’t handle the compression and coupled with that, particularly as a player, there’s expectation and pressure to perform”
JP Duminy on bubble fatigue
Duminy aims to mentor players through the challenges of being “seen as a role model” and of having to “live a certain way, day in and day out, where you are giving your best every day”. He admitted that “it can be challenging, particularly when we are living in a bubble life and things are restricted; you have to find ways to make sure you are refreshed continuously.”
He described the current experience of operating in bio-bubbles as a “massive sacrifice” and stressed the importance of having a good support structure. “One can look at it and think sportspeople are paid to do this, so they’ve just got to live with it, but at the end of the day they are just human beings. They can go through some depressive states because they can’t handle the compression and coupled with that, particularly as a player, there’s expectation and pressure to perform,” he said. “Going into a World Cup, how are you going to handle that? It’s important to have perspective and to have a greater cause or purpose outside of the game. This is also where the families come in. The families play an integral part in calmness. They are a positive distraction, if one can call it that.”
Duminy played in three 50-over and six T20 World Cups and has first-hand experience of the unique pressures that a South African squad, which usually enters the competition with expectation and leaves empty-handed, faces. This time, after a two-year period of inconsistent results, they are among underdogs, with nothing more than quiet confidence about their chances. “I am very optimistic about what I’ve seen over the last couple of days,” Duminy said. “I love what I am seeing. I am loving the conversations that’s happening and the clarity but also there is this belief within each other, which is great to see. And in many ways, also contagious.”
After the T20 World Cup, Duminy will return home to work as a batting consultant with the Lions, with a view to growing his career as a coach, even though it has come unexpectedly. “It’s not something I ran after, it found me. In my role as Lions coach, I was asked to come into the environment,” he said. “The journey has been short in terms of the transition (from playing) and I’ve also done some commentary. There was always an idea of commentary and coaching balancing each other out and at some point one was going to leapfrog the other. I am enjoying it.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent