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JP Duminy and the ghost of Lily Lumley

Professional cricketers stay well away from the spooky mansion but it provides a poignant narrative thread for South Africa’s World Cup campaign as the Proteas march into their next match like ghosts, ever restless and with business unfinished.

FILE: JP Duminy. Picture: @OfficialCSA/Twitter

LONDON - Peeping above the trees, just outside the Riverside Stadium in Chester-le-Street, is Lumley Castle, a 14th Century fortress that sits proudly on top of a steep hill. Originally built by the 1st Baron Lumley, who was executed for rebelling against Henry VI, the squat crenelated stronghold now doubles as a museum and a boutique hotel.

Professional cricketers used to stay here, both for the ease of its proximity to the stadium just over the river and for the adjacent golf course. But no longer. Lily Lumley has seen to that.

Rather, the ghost of Lily Lumley. The flesh and blood version shuffled off this mortal coil in January 1400 when she was thrown down a well after objecting to her husband’s extra curricular activities with a nun. Ever since her spirit has haunted the stone building, seeking revenge on those that now desecrate her resting place.

That’s the story at least. Whether you believe it or not is your business but it it was convincing enough for members of the touring Australian squad in 2005 who claimed that Lily’s presence had an impact on their performance. Same too for former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly who reported strange paranormal sightings late at night.

Now, professional cricketers stay well away from the spooky mansion but it provides a poignant narrative thread for South Africa’s World Cup campaign as the Proteas march into their next match like ghosts, ever restless and with business unfinished.

The demons of previous tournaments have not been exercised. Skeletons continue to clank in the closet. The spectres of ’92, ’99, ’15 and all the rest hover over these beleaguered South Africans as they have stumbled from one defeat to the next, taking their leave from the global showpiece with two games to spare. A new low for a proud nation that must now search for meaning from their remaining fixtures.

“We obviously want to apologise to the public and the South African fans for letting them down,” JP Duminy, the 35 year old all-rounder said to the press ahead of tomorrow’s clash against Sri Lanka. “When you put in performances like that, you in a way almost feel ashamed. But we know it’s not all lost. This team can come back stronger.”

They will have to do so without Duminy. He announced before the start of the tournament that he would be stepping away from One-Day International cricket after the trophy presentation at Lord's next month. He is currently on 197 caps. At most he will end on 199. One short of a milestone. An almost fitting end to a career that promised so much more than an average in the thirties with only four hundreds to his name.

Duminy spoke of his contribution to the game and stressed that statistics alone do not accurately reflect the measure of a cricketer. “For me, legacy is not in performance,” he said. “It is the person you are. And for me, it’s about being a good person, it’s about influencing people in the right way.”

He continued: “There is no doubt that I want to put in a big performance for the team, for the public, for the fans that have supported us through thick and thin. But for me, legacy lies in when people look back, or think of you and they’ve had the opportunity to interact with you. I don’t think a hundred is the thing they’ll remember.”

How will JP Duminy be remembered? His 166 against Australia in only his second Test in Melbourne will forever stand as one of the greatest individual knocks by a South African. But too often he gave his wicket away or missed a straight one or spooned a catch to extra cover when climbing the gears was required. For almost 15 years he has been a source of frustration. A player constantly walking a tightrope, never quite falling to the depths of obscurity but never progressing to the end of the line.

He played in South Africa’s three opening games of this tournament, scoring 8, 45 and 3. His last contribution ended when Kuldeep Yadav thumped one into his pads. He was dropped, deemed surplus to requirement as Faf du Plessis went in search of a win. Duminy carried drinks, he wore a baseball mitt in fielding drills and offered his compatriots throw downs in the nets. All the while the chance to walk away from the game with his head held high faded into the distance. Like a ghost wailing alone in a stone castle, Duminy became something that was rather than someone that is.

“It is disappointing,” he said when asked if the thought of only playing a handful of games at his final World Cup bothered him. “But the most disappointing part has been our team performance and it will be amiss of me not to mention how disappointed we all are. It’s been pretty dismal from our part and we wish we could point out one thing, one reason why we haven’t performed.”

Next up is Sri Lanka, a team South Africa swatted aside 5-0 in a recent series at home and also the team that Duminy made his ODI debut against in 2004. He has never scored a century against the Islanders, coming closest with a score 97 in Pallekele in 2013, encapsulating the career of a classy left-hand, who was once heralded as the next big talent on the scene.

He has a chance to set the record straight. He will never be the player he was meant to be. He will never be remembered as the player he wished he was. But he is anything but a ghost. He deserves to end his ODI career with a memorable innings, one final hurrah, one explosive crescendo that will emphasise his rare gifts.

Down in her well, Lily Lumley won’t be watching, but we will be. Watching and hoping for a goodbye to remember.

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