Cape Town – Diminutive scrapper Temba Bavuma has a very rosy chance now of marching out as an opening batsman for the Proteas in the first Test against England at Kingsmead from Boxing Day.
Thrust into virgin territory – at any first-class level of play for him – at the front of the order for the closing Test of the surrendered series against India in Delhi, where South Africa are still fighting a funereal survival battle for a draw, he has ticked enough boxes to justify retention for Durban.
On paper, his completed batting statistics at the Feroz Shah Kotla don’t look too awesome: 22 in the first innings and 34 in the second for a personal match average of 28.
But in the context of the Proteas’ rather sorry collective efforts with the blade over the course of the series, he has been both determined and durable in the dead-rubber fixture, where they go into the fifth day on Monday with eight second-knock wickets standing and a brave stalemate not wholly out of the question.
Some of the other stats ammunition tells you that Bavuma has looked anything but out of depth in his taxing first-time role: he faced 55 balls in the first turn at the crease, second only to premier batsman AB de Villiers, and as many as 117 in the second as he set the tone for Sunday’s welcome South African resilience.
Once he was dismissed, captain Hashim Amla and De Villiers took the principle of “knuckling down” to new levels of devotion – there were more overs (33) than runs (32) in the last session which is not something you see every day.
Yet those 172 deliveries the immeasurably less experienced Bavuma saw off a bit earlier have been educative, showing him as a compact, organised fellow even if it is stating the obvious that conditions will be worlds apart at Kingsmead, when a certain Messrs Anderson and Broad – 741 Test scalps between them -- will steam into him with a gleaming ball.
He may well be a beneficiary, in some senses, of the slightly worrisome instability that has taken hold of the Proteas’ front two slots in the order, where we have already seen another manufactured opener, Stiaan van Zyl, debatably sacrificed for under-delivery in the runs column in India.
The supposedly “senior” opener at present, Dean Elgar, is not exactly great shakes himself at present, with his already-recognised resolve being negatively offset by some technical snags and his unfortunate sitting-duck status against spin whizz Ravichandran Ashwin in the present series.
Fortunately nemesis Ashwin will not be anywhere near Kingsmead, of course, and Elgar should at least start the series against the English who will pose enormously contrasting challenges to him.
Bavuma’s case for retention in Durban is boosted by the words in his favour from SuperSport pundit and two-country past Test opener Kepler Wessels, who doesn’t hand out laurels lightly.
“He has shown a good game-plan and also concentrated very well in each innings ... he has done enough to start in the next one even though (conditions) will be very different,” Wessels said.
“We’re not going to know (whether Bavuma cuts it at the top of the order in the South African environment) until we find out.”
Wessels reminded that he contributes other strengths to the team in that he is also “pretty good, and brave” as a specialist short-leg fielder.
Meanwhile Bavuma’s veteran Lions franchise-mate and another successfully reworked ex-Proteas opener, Neil McKenzie, was also prepared to envisage a future for him up front for South Africa.
“He works really hard on his game; he’s also got the grit and temperament. So I wouldn’t say that he can’t ...”
The 25-year-old could well be the shortest opening batsman ever to represent South Africa, but there is no legislation against that and he has an assuring, steely glare in his eyes at the crease.
Put another way, he doesn’t look like the relative rookie at Test level he still is from a caps point of view ...
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