Bavuma snug fit in SA succession plan?

2016-09-25 19:48
Temba Bavuma (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It is impossible to resist sensing a healthy synergy in the fact that Willowmoore Park in Benoni, hardly one of the most fashionable venues in world cricket, saw the maiden one-day international centuries of both Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma.

Both innings came in Sunday-staged, daytime fixtures, and as opening batsmen, against relative minnows - Amla thrashed 140 off 135 deliveries against Bangladesh in November 2008 and Bavuma has now done the business on debut in the format with his pivotal 113 (123 balls) in South Africa’s crushing 206-run triumph over Ireland.

What makes Bavuma’s effort highly significant is that he only played as an always intended, once-off stand-in for the experienced Amla at the top of the order, allowing the 33-year-old veteran – some seven years his senior - a more extended rest ahead of the imminent five-match series against top-ranked Australia.

That appealing battle begins with a Highveld double-header at SuperSport Park in Centurion (Friday, day-night) and at the Wanderers (Sunday), when Amla should be very much back at his post as Quinton de Kock’s partner up front; it has been a very productive and well-balanced alliance thus far.

Admittedly Amla was in his 10th ODI when he tackled the “Tigers” at Benoni eight years back, but the jury was still out then about his ability to make the switch from his perceived forte - Test and first-class cricket - to the speedier brand of the game.

He had notched just one half-century, against Kenya, up to that point, but that concerted onslaught against the Asian outfit truly marked his “arrival” as a consistent element of the Proteas’ arsenal in the 50-overs landscape.

Amla and his then-captain Graeme Smith posted 136 runs in 24.1 overs for the first wicket that day, with the former going on to achieve what still remains the highest individual ODI score at Willowmoore Park.

I attended that match and wrote with some confidence afterwards: “Amla has clearly come to stay as a one-day international player, even if Bangladesh should only be used as a limited yardstick of prowess.”

Going into the Aussie series after 137 appearances and averaging a glorious 51.97, the bearded destroyer of bowlers’ hearts currently stands third on the global rankings, behind only compatriot AB de Villiers and India’s Virat Kohli.

Of course special caution should accompany the obvious temptation to make as bold a long-term prediction for Bavuma after his hatchet job on Ireland, given that it was his first exposure to the environment - and also the fact that he really should have been held in the slips on one when he played a wild, nervy slash off static feet.

But the pint-sized batsman is nothing if not fiercely determined and not easily ruffled, qualities that have already been evident in his rise and rise at the Test crease.

Bavuma only blossomed progressively after his life, to the extent that he was soon mixing suitable vigilance with more flamboyant strokes, very much like Amla had done in his own landmark knock at the ground several years ago.

He rotated strike deftly to allow generous chunks of it to the more naturally expansive De Kock and, as SuperSport commentator and former Proteas left-arm spinner Paul Harris noted, is “a really fine judge of a single”.

Here the pair assembled 159 runs in 24 overs, creating a new record for the opening partnership at the East Rand ground.

If Amla is renowned for often barely raising a sweat even in some of his lengthiest vigils, the same could be said to have applied to Bavuma in his extended stint in the warm spring sunshine, as he picked his spots for boundaries with mounting conviction and assuredness after much early nudging and scampering to keep the board ticking along fruitfully.

A few weeks ago, there were still plenty of doubters about Bavuma’s suitability to ODIs, but since his call-up for the lone Irish clash he has “celebrated” by lashing 117 (at No 4) for the Lions against the Titans in the Momentum eKasi Challenge at Soweto earlier in the month and now repeating the three-figure trick in the national strip itself.

It is natural for people to suspect that Bavuma, like Amla, is best suited to batting at the top of the order in this version of the game, given that he is more renowned as an orthodox-styled “caresser” than an out-and-out bludgeoner of a cricket ball.

Whether places can be found for both in full-strength SA ODI sides going forward remains to be seen; remember that Amla has only ever batted three times outside an opening berth for the Proteas.

But as thoughts slowly begin to turn to succession issues in preparation for the great HM Amla bowing out somewhere up the line, we may well have seen a glimpse against Ireland of a hopeful future in his particular slot …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  temba bavuma  |  cricket


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