Cape Town – Oops … Temba Bavuma has receded a bit, roughly into the same statistical domain occupied by JP Duminy in Test matches.
And we all know what’s just happened to the latter.
Hardly helped by his advancing age, the 33-year-old Duminy was finally dropped after the Lord’s first Test against England, having simply failed to stack on the same row - despite particularly numerous opportunities - consistent levels of delivery with his excellent ability on a good day.
The diminutive left-hander was booted after 46 Tests, showing 2 103 runs at an average fractionally short of his age.
Yes, 32.85 is seldom a passport to permanence in the Test XIs of most major nations.
So with that knowledge in mind, where does that currently leave fellow middle-order customer Bavuma?
As things stand, the even more vertically challenged right-hander averages 31.09 after 22 Tests, with a pretty lean seven half-centuries and one ton, and only three scores above 75 from his total of 34 turns at the crease.
Those are difficult-to-shout-about figures. We know it, and so will he.
But should it necessarily mean that he is increasingly ripe for the cut? My own instincts remain fairly devoutly not.
Look, you cannot escape the need for truly major runs if you are a specialist batsman – though we’ve seen that he trundles some very passable, diligent medium-pacers at times of crisis – in the five-day arena.
At the same time, prudent “investment” in someone at that level is a phenomenon that can pay rich dividends at some point down the line, and the one thing you cannot say too resolutely is that Bavuma looks lamentably at sea in the premier landscape.
Quite far from it, I’d say.
Certainly from a technical point view, some of the wisest of the heavyweight English television commentators have already enthused over the “organisation” of his make-up at the crease, amidst other attributes.
They were doing it during the SA-based bilateral series two years ago, when England wrested away the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy by a 2-1 margin despite Bavuma’s poignant maiden century at Newlands, and again at Lord’s much more recently, where the player top-scored in the Proteas’ first innings with a typically tenacious 59.
Right now, too, with South Africa having so spiritedly snatched the whip hand back at Trent Bridge to level matters at 1-1 with two contests to go, those very same pundits are far more fiercely and mercilessly mulling over the shortcomings in home batsmen like Gary Ballance and Keaton Jennings.
With subsequent series knocks of 21, 20 and 15, naturally the 27-year-old Bavuma will be starting to just sweat a bit over the rival claims in the middle order of presently inactive squad-mates like Theunis de Bruyn, who had shown some promising mettle of his own at Lord’s.
But statistics don’t dominate every story, and the gritty manner in which Bavuma has played some of his bulkier innings for South Africa – sometimes from situations of major peril – also serves as a reminder that he has a temperamental fortitude that mustn’t be under-appreciated.
Remember Hobart, and the pivotal, series-deciding Test against Australia? Remember a couple of his resolute vigils in the chilly climes of New Zealand?
Those are particularly indelible ticks in his favour, ones that deserve to allow him a bit of additional breathing space in his currently slightly lean times.
Bavuma is also one of the Proteas’ sprightliest and nippiest fielders, in a period when past, exemplary standards in that regard have near-nosedived, in all truth … South Africa suddenly look no better, and possibly even more inept than, several other fielding teams in Tests.
To those baying or at least muttering for his removal at this point, I would remind of how another No 6-type of batsman in Tests for the country, that iconic figure Jonty Rhodes, fared in his own first 22 appearances: he also boasted only one century (against Sri Lanka at Moratuwa in 1993) and six half-measures, to Bavuma’s seven.
Yet limited-overs whizz Rhodes went on to complete 52 Tests, and had cranked his average into the more palatable upper thirties by the time his Test career wound up.
Then there’s a certain Jacques Kallis. You compare him with other people at your peril, of course, given the all-time statistical legend he undoubtedly is.
But this eventual, 166-Test colossus had a notably unconvincing average of just below 24 after 11 Tests, and after 22, Bavuma’s existing tally, was just one superior in the centuries column (two) but also two shy in half-ton terms.
I wouldn’t pull the plug on Temba Bavuma at this juncture, and I say that while unapologetically ignoring, also, the oft-publicised matter of who he is, where he comes from and how he fits the demographic agenda required for the national team.
My argument is based on wholly orthodox, cricketing grounds.
The need for a healthier performance curve in the scorebook before too long?
Of course; that speaks for itself.
He’s ambitious, proud, and no shirker. He won’t and almost certainly doesn’t seek special favours.
He will believe he is a better batsman than his figures give him credit for, and be hell-bent on actively assuring us all of that.
Those stats can go northward …
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