Cape Town – Perhaps it is pertinent to briefly
remind that Temba Bavuma is not the first black African cricketer to register a
Test half-century for South Africa.
That landmark fell to Monde Zondeki, of
course, on an extraordinary 2003 winning debut for the country in which injury
(to become a regular bugbear, sadly) curtailed his intended specialist trade -
fast bowling - to a mere 4.5 overs across both England innings at Headingley.
But the rookie from King William’s Town
famously contributed instead to a massively revitalising, eighth-wicket stand
of 150 with Gary Kirsten in the Proteas’ first knock from a bilious position of
142 for seven.
His resilient effort of 59 in seaming
conditions remained his career first-class best upon retirement, which also
tells you that although he could hold a tail-end willow, it was very much a
secondary element to his armoury.
Another quickie, the more illustrious
Makhaya Ntini, hardly lacked swashbuckling confidence at the crease, bless his
soul, but the closest he came in 116 turns at the Test crease to a fifty was a
breezy 32 not out - coincidentally in that very same Leeds Test already
mentioned for Zondeki’s feat in batsmanship.
A more proficient player with the blade,
wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile, has only featured in three Tests (and at the age
of almost 35 seems unlikely to see more?) with a top score of 22.
So yes, for what it is worth - and some people
would argue that worth is actually plentiful and poignant - Bavuma on Tuesday
became the first out-and-out batsman of African background to raise his bat for
a half-ton in Proteas whites.
Speaking of “whites”, there has always been
an Archie Bunker-like lobby in South Africa naively resistant to the belief
that black men can, indeed, bat ... with many of them unfathomably bypassing
the lengthy, proud heritage of African cricket in this country in the face of
weighty obstacles before apartheid was finally disbanded and better
opportunities began to open up, albeit slowly.
Bavuma’s significant, encouraging step in
the right direction in Chittagong – let’s limit the superlatives to those for
the moment, given that the diminutive scrapper should be buoyed to progress to
a more coveted three-figure innings sooner rather than later for the SA cause –
will go down very well in large sectors of our community, and that in itself is
a warming development amidst our domestic winter chill.
His 159-minute vigil for 54 amounted to the
premier performance of South Africa’s unusually sub-standard bowl-out for 248
in favourable crease conditions on day one of the first Test against the
improving but still-underdog Bangladeshis.
Especially pleasing about Bavuma’s innings
was his mastery of the circumstances: a wobble had already begun as he took his
guard, and he was a helpless witness at the other end not terribly long
afterwards as Mustafizur Rahman, the frisky young left-arm paceman on debut,
routed both JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock for ducks.
In the face of such adversity, the Cape
Town-born right-hander knuckled down with fortitude and gumption, mixing
circumspection with portions of crystal-clear aggression.
Bavuma might have prospered more, and could
hardly be blamed for holing out in the deep when he did as last man to perish, partners
on the brink of drying up.
“He’s a mentally tough character, always
trying to better himself,” noted Neil McKenzie, a reasonably long-time Lions
team-mate and proven former Test combatant himself, from his role in the
SuperSport studio. “He was organised and played quality shots.”
Team management commendably persisting with
Bavuma was at least one positive to emerge: with some talk beforehand that
Reeza Hendricks might be handed a debut cap at the top, Stiaan van Zyl would
probably have been bumped down the order under those circumstances with Bavuma
thus at risk of being a fall-guy after just two previous Test knocks (15 and
10) against West Indies.
Ditching him after so few chances would
have been betrayal of the Proteas’ generally fruitful principle of giving
players proper opportunities to find their feet in the five-day side, and not
being alarmist or knee-jerk in their selections even when things aren’t
routinely hunky dory results-wise.
Still, there’s no denying it was otherwise
a largely traumatic day for the world’s No 1-ranked side at Zahur Ahmed
Chowdhury Stadium, and a little worryingly seems something of a carry-over from
the undignified difficulties experienced in the preceding ODI series.
The Proteas certainly have a battle on
their hands ... or do they even?
I ask that primarily because not only would
it be absolutely daft to write off their own chances of victory from this very fledgling
stage, but also due to a stubbornly wretched weather forecast for the next few
days suggesting a strong likelihood they could squirm out of jail anyway if
woes happen to persist.
The site I most trust for weather
predictions indicates niggling, but still near-incessant rain for much of
Wednesday through to Friday ... and then Saturday, from midnight to next
midnight, may see some 125mm of the wet stuff for Chittagong.
Boy, that makes “bucket-loads” seem an
At least Bavuma’s happy little stat is
safely in the book.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing