Proteas batting coach Neil McKenzie says Temba Bavuma has the tools to make it as a one-day international (ODI) opening batsman.
Bavuma, a middle-order batsman who has been making steady progress in the test team, has been selected as a makeshift opener for the one-off game against Ireland on Sunday.
Given that he has never opened in first-class cricket, it is a move that has come as a surprise to many.
But McKenzie believes Bavuma has what it takes: “It’s not a position he’s used to but it’s a good position for him. You still need to take your time and hit the bad balls for four.
He’s a natural run scorer with good technique.”
With the opportunity only there for a single game and not the five-match ODI series against Australia as well, McKenzie gave the impression Bavuma was being eased into the new role.
“Obviously they’re giving him a run to try and convert what he has done in tests and compete for a spot in the one-day side. I’ve played with him and I know him well. He’s a hard worker who should make it work.”
CONFIDENT Neil McJenzie believes Bavuma has the technique to do what it takes. Picture: Gallo Images
Looking at the series against the Aussies, McKenzie said it was an opportunity to draw a line under a patchy last season, as the Proteas try to rise from fourth place on the ODI rankings.
“The players want to stamp their style on the ODI side,” he explained.
“I think in terms of the five ODIs, Australia usually win most things, so playing them would be a good gauge of where we are and where we are trying to get to.
“It’s important to get momentum. We want to play good, positive, winning cricket and for the team to establish its own identity.”
He said not much could be learnt from their recent run-in with Australia in the triangular series with the West Indies in the Caribbean, other than that it was underwhelming.
“There were a few issues there. The guys had played a lot of cricket and were disappointed after [a bad] T20 World Cup.
“I think we should have won five from five. In all those games we had moments when we dominated. But the guys are refreshed and hungry and it’s a new season.”
The former Lions and Proteas batsman said he expected a lot of competition in the team as they search for their new identity.
“David Miller’s back after he went to Australia with the A side, and he’s in form,” he said.
“We’ve got some options with left-arm spin, and hopefully we can get answers around the all-rounder issue.”
He said the fact that some of the Aussies have been rested while others, like Shaun Marsh and James Faulkner, have been withdrawn through injury, wouldn’t make a difference.
“You know whoever plays for Australia plays for the badge,” he explained.
“That’s what we want, we want hard cricket. We want to send a message that it’s a new season and the guys are hungry.”
McKenzie said he had enjoyed his new role as batting coach with the national team:
“It’s something I wanted to do for a while because I’ve always loved the nuances and techniques of batting.
He said changing from a player to a coach has required a shift in mind-set, but management and the players have helped him a lot.
“They talk a lot of cricket and work hard, and [coach] Russell [Domingo] lets everybody contribute.”
Known to be easy-going as a player, McKenzie revealed he takes roughly the same coaching approach.
“I try to break it down and use my experience. I’ll check if there’s a technical flaw and see if it’s impeding the batsman’s ability to make runs.
“But these guys are world class and they know their game.”