In cricket, one name stands alone as a monument to unrealized potential and endless, frustrating failure: Graeme Hick.
The big Zimbabwean-turned-Englishman hit the English County scene like a club to the skull, and he seemed destined to become the square-jawed matinee idol of the international game. Season after season he put County attacks to the sword, eventually amassing 41,000 First Class runs including 136 centuries. But when the inevitable Test call-up came, the results were a crushing disappointment.
Sixteen years after the end of his international career, Hick remains the go-to reference when talk turns to underachieving players.
Which must be a great relief for a certain JP Duminy, AKA the Luckiest Cricketer in South Africa.
Duminy’s innings at Hamilton on Monday, embarrassingly ended by an unchallenged straight ball, was his 72nd in Tests, and took his career run tally to 2086.
After 72 innings, Graeme Hick had scored 2591 runs.
You read right. The game’s greatest underachiever had outscored Duminy by half a thousand runs at the same point in his career.
Of course, one can’t base on argument on just one example, so here are a couple more that show just how hopelessly out of his depth Duminy is.
Neil McKenzie was thrown a lifeline in 2008 after last playing a Test in 2004. He responded by scoring 1073 Test runs that year, more than Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Clarke and AB de Villiers. Three months into 2009 his Test career was over. (Duminy has never scored more than 419 runs in a year.) After 72 innings, McKenzie had scored 2599 runs to Duminy’s 2086.
Hansie Cronje revitalized South African cricket in the mid-1990s and played some mighty knocks in his time, but most pundits agree that he probably wouldn’t have had a Test career if he hadn’t been such a charismatic captain. He was weak against the short ball, and far too often made an attractive 35 where a dogged 135 was needed. But after 72 innings the often-fragile Cronje had managed 2352 runs.
Just behind Cronje, at 2290 after 72 innings, is Jacques Rudolph, who was facing howls of criticism at this point in his career and was a year away from being permanently dumped out of Test cricket.
Some Proteas didn’t even last 67 innings: they were axed by selectors who considered them to be a grave liability or simply not up to Test standard any more.
Remember Andrew Hudson? Hudders who, in the late 1990s, was considered almost supernaturally dismissal-prone and someone who needed to be ditched as soon as possible? Hudson played 63 Test innings in total and yet he still managed to score 2007 runs. After 63 innings, JP Hick, sorry, Duminy, had scored 1797: 210 runs fewer than a man who was considered a walking wicket and lucky to be selected.
More recently there was Alviro Petersen, eased out of the international game after 36 Tests and 64 innings. Petersen played some memorable knocks but nobody ever seriously believed that he was a Test blue-blood. And yet in his 64 innings he amassed 2093 runs. Duminy has played 8 innings more than that, and has yet to match that tally.
The bottom line, evidenced by comings and goings of players over the last 20 years, is that JP Duminy is not a Test batsman and is fantastically lucky to still have a career.
Yes, say his supporters, but that’s unfair: he’s not a Test batsman, he’s a Test allrounder. You can’t judge him by batting standards.
Well OK, but if you’re going to play that game then you need to measure him against other spinning allrounders, and the stats are still damning.
After 55 bowling innings, Duminy has bowled, 435.3 overs, taken 42 wickets @ 36.7.
After the same number of bowling innings, Hick had bowled 496.3 overs, taken 22 at 56.72.
By comparison, Duminy looks pretty good.
That is, until you compare him to some spinning allrounders who can actually bowl.
For starters there’s Bangladeshi star, Shakib Al Hasan. After 55 bowling innings, Shakib had bowled 1548 overs and taken 141 wickets at 32.26. Oh, and after 72 batting innings? He’s scored 2554 runs at over 40… #JustSaying.
Then there’s a certain R Ashwin. After 55 innings he’d bowled 1428.4 overs and taken 157 wickets at 27.29. So more of a specialist bowler, right? Well, Ashwin hasn’t batted as many times as Duminy – 69 innings to Duminy’s 72 – but after those 69 innings Ashwin has scored 1903 runs at 32.25. In short, Ashwin is more or less Duminy’s equal with the bat, and vastly superior with the ball.
The most telling figure here, though, is Duminy’s relatively tiny number of overs bowled. We all know he can bowl and break partnerships, but the point is that he doesn‘t bowl. This is understandable given the potency of the SA pace attack, but the simple fact is that Duminy is being used as a part-time spinner, which means he’s being selected as a specialist batsman. And he simply isn’t that. Not by a long shot.
So next time you hear Graeme Hick’s name being used as a synonym for cricketing failure, suggest that it’s time for an update.