Cape Town – The sky seems the limit for
Temba Bavuma following his rightly-trumpeted maiden century for South Africa in
the prestigious New Year Test match against England at Newlands a few days
It is difficult to feel anything but
optimistic and hopeful for his future contribution to the country’s five-day
cause after his important statistical landmark – achieved with authoritative
stroke-play and startling assuredness -- for any ambitious international-level batsman.
Yet few people need reminding that cricket
is a fickle, sometimes cruel game; sunny skies can cloud over at a surprising
rate of knots.
If the 25-year-old Bavuma is to nail down a
long-term berth, as a formidable array of enthusiasts will wish him to do, a
clear-cut plan for his continued development and well-being would be beneficial
He carries special pressures ... as generous
media features the world over have not been slow to reiterate since his drought-ending
achievement as first black African player to get to three figures for the
Everyone wants a piece of him right now,
and the temptation to make him a prominent poster-boy in Cricket South Africa’s
public relations drive will be overwhelming.
Fortunately, by all accounts, the player
himself is determined to stay grounded and focused and not fall prey to
sideshows that could have an adverse effect on his performance.
Very much the same applies to his family: I
can tell you for free that his father Vuyo, an old newspaper colleague of mine
and devout in his wish not to be an interfering figure in Temba’s career
progress, is all too aware of what he termed to me the damaging “Capriati
effect” in sport.
Three-time Grand Slam singles title winner
Jennifer Capriati was dragged onto the pro circuit by her (now late) father
Stefano when barely into her teens, and doubled as her coach with a notoriously
bullying and pushy reputation.
Notable success followed, but Capriati also
burned out early, beset by personal problems including drug abuse, suicide
contemplation and varying criminal charges.
That is an extreme case, of course, and it
is most unlikely the self-motivated and sensible Temba Bavuma would ever slip
down such avenues.
On that note, it is worth remembering that
he is, arguably, already more world-wise than many other SA cricketers, given
his Unisa degree in financial management which stands him in good stead for a
career outside the game if that is required later in life.
Nor is Bavuma the stereotypical “rags to
riches” or “lad from the kraal” story as a black cricketer making it to the top
in our country: certainly nothing like Makhaya Ntini, the cattle-herder from
remote Mdingi village in the Eastern Cape, or Mfuneko Ngam, who came from a
similarly rural environment and had his sadly career-curtailing injuries
apparently influenced by poor childhood nutrition.
Bavuma wasn’t exactly brought up with a
silver spoon in his mouth – few were in then still pre-democracy Langa – but he
was also part of a gradually emerging middle-class movement and beneficiary of
ivy-league schooling, if you like, in both Cape Town and later Johannesburg.
He knows how to stand on his own two feet,
thank you very much.
There has already been talk of his
abilities translating into an additional challenge for spots in the Proteas’
two limited-overs sides, but my own thoughts on that score would tend toward
the “easy, tiger!” variety.
The player has largely made his patient,
pleasing strides thus far at first-class level, and I believe it would be
better for him to try to genuinely bed down as a Test regular before harbouring
any ambitions to crack the ODI and T20 SA folds.
I have a strong gut feel that the multi-day
game is and will remain Bavuma’s forte for the foreseeable future, and that too
much limited-overs distraction and the changed emphasis it requires runs the
risk of dispersing rather than enhancing his skills.
In his longer-term interest, perhaps, I
feel a stint in county cricket – ideally next UK season? – might reap rewards
in his quest to become as rounded a batsman as possible.
England is one country among the major
powers where Bavuma sports negligible experience, and remains a valued
“finishing school” in many respects for players aware of the unique, highly
variable conditions there and how useful it can be to master them.
Current Proteas Test team-mates like Hashim
Amla (Derbyshire and Essex), Faf du Plessis (Lancashire) and Dean Elgar
(Somerset and Surrey) have benefited from spells in the County Championship –
these days you don’t have to commit to a full season; a few intensive weeks here
or there has become reasonably fashionable for overseas stars.
A concerted spell in England would also
prepare Bavuma nicely for South Africa’s extended presence there in 2017, when
they play four Tests, but also some bilateral ODIs and will take part in the
ICC Champions Trophy on that soil.
He has relatively few other major holes yet
to fill in terms of cricket globetrotting, given that he has already shown his
mettle on the Subcontinent, with some gritty contributions to the Test cause in
both Bangladesh and India last year – he has long been a decent, purposeful
player of spin – and also proved that he can do the business in the greatly
different Australian landscape.
Bavuma’s first-class best, after all,
remains the 162 he registered for SA ‘A’ against their Aussie counterparts in
Queensland in 2014, when he and Rilee Rossouw transformed a precarious position
with a massive alliance of 343.
My understanding is that the diminutive
battler is also fairly keen to contemplate embracing greater responsibility for
his Lions franchise, ideally taking guard considerably higher up the order in
Sunfoil Series cricket than his more traditional berths around numbers five or
Being closer to dealing with a shiny newer,
harder ball would only enhance his technical development, as well as increase
the chance of genuinely lengthy vigils by him.
With a bit of luck we may be some way off
the best yet of Temba Bavuma, as long as his trajectory is managed patiently
Amidst mounting, inevitable hype, the cart
mustn’t be allowed to be lugged indelicately in front of the horse.
So far, the signs seem pretty good that
this won’t be allowed to happen.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing