There’s a story doing the rounds about the day the penny dropped for Temba Bavuma on what first-class cricket is about.
The Lions were playing a four-day game in Potchefstroom and in the final session of the match, the team needed to score six runs per over to win the game. Bavuma was first to face and took a single, while his partner went for a massive heave and managed to get himself out.
This went on for overs and the Lions, whose batsmen were getting out to rash strokes, finally lost the game. Afterwards, there were thinly veiled accusations at Bavuma about “pulling a Kallis” and batting for his average at the team’s expense.
His response was roughly along these lines: “We needed six per over; why not take the available singles and put away the [inevitable] bad ball?”
It is this cricket intellect that has seen the pint-sized batsman, who has played 11 tests, make an impression in the Proteas’ middle order.
But the bigger lesson, especially in light of Cricket SA (CSA) striking out in yet another transformation target direction, is how he got there.
Bavuma’s rise has been carefully managed, both at franchise and international level. When he scored six centuries in his breakout season, there was no rush to throw him into the national team.
Instead, he was given a second season and more apprenticeship in the SA A-team to back his claims.
And when he got into the national team, he was given an uninterrupted run to establish himself, pretty much what all players ask for.
CSA was careful to play down the numbers aspect of its decree that all South African teams need to play 54% black players – 18% black African – over the course of the season.
But transformation remains an equation governed by numbers and its not about how to bring out the best in human beings. Few administrators seem to grasp that players, black or white, need two basic things to thrive: ample opportunity and ample backing.
Geoffrey Toyana, Bavuma’s coach at franchise level, added a third and a fourth.
“With Temba, I was quite lucky because he showed promise from Under-19 level. But communication was key because I told him he’d take over from Neil McKenzie as our number four batsman.
“Knowing that I had a plan for him made him believe. The other big thing is that he works hard – nobody hits more balls than Temba – and he asks the right questions,” said Toyana.
Toyana agrees that adequately addressing transformation requires a change in attitude and shouldn’t necessarily be based on gauging success by the numbers.
“The whole transformation thing is a mindset thing,” he explained. “There’s this misconception that there aren’t black players who are talented and who can play, and that playing them weakens teams. We’ve consistently picked six or seven and we still won trophies in recent seasons.
“I come from a time when I’d be dropped for Ethy Mbhalati. I’d ask the coach how he could replace a top six batsman with an opening bowler. It’s important to give guys quality opportunities; we’ve seen [black] bowlers bowl two overs and batsmen bat at nine in 50-over games at franchise level...”
Be that as it may, Toyana is grateful for CSA’s candour in outlining its expectations.
“The most important thing is that they’ve come out and announced it, so there is clarity,” he said.
This, said Toyana, inspires coaches to carry on honing their players and their skills, and managing upcoming talents for the best.