Cape Town – South
Africa were loyal, pretty steadfastly, to that bundle of energy Jonty Rhodes in
the Test arena.
Bavuma a similar model of broad effervescence to the Proteas’ cause, and deserving
something that should be considered, beyond merely statistical batting data, if
Bavuma is going to be the sacrifice should the brains trust wish for a
five-strong attack – coach Ottis Gibson has been hinting along those lines this
week -- in the first Test against India at Newlands from Friday.
structure, the hosts will be deploying only six out-and-out batsmen, and with both
Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock passed fit, there is thus going to have to be
one high-profile “sit out” stroke-player.
On a numbers
basis, Bavuma is understandably vulnerable: any batsman averaging an
unremarkable 33.13 after 27 Tests for a top-tier nation would be, and we have
to keep that in mind even as certain political ripples may well accompany any
decision to omit him.
Put it this
way: considerably more frightful selection decisions will have been made in
tenacious little 27-year-old is also more than just a moderate-firing member,
as things stand, of the SA Test middle-order.
There is a
slightly bigger picture to contemplate as well.
are desperate to reinvent themselves as one of the premier fielding forces in
world cricket after a spell stretching back two or three years, at least, in
which standards have notably slipped and other nations hurdled them.
“normal service” in that department has clearly been a major goal of Gibson’s –
still in his formative period as national coach – given that he has latched a
specialist fielding assistant, Justin Ontong, onto his back-up staff.
AB de Villiers are arguably the two premier fielders in the current Test squad
ranks, albeit that the latter is now nearly 34, inevitably shedding just a
fraction of his famed mobility and reaction time as a result, and occasionally
saddled with emergency wicketkeeping needs, too.
to argue, not without merit, that Rhodes would effectively add at least 10 or
15 runs to his often far from special Test batting average (career 35.66 after
52 Tests over a nine-year period) through his amazing agility and industry in
the field, which went a long way to justifying his longevity and consistent
selection for the Test XI.
Bavuma may fall just a wee bit behind Rhodes – and almost every cricketer in
global history does – for sheer quality as a fielder, he is really not far
behind at all, and increasingly asserting himself as a real “personality” in
that area for the Proteas.
So if you
axe Bavuma, you are making a certain, noticeable sacrifice to your broad
fielding prowess, which is not something the current SA regime wants.
the pint-sized athlete now sports every bit as iconic a “magical moment”, if
you like, in the field as one or two of Rhodes’ best efforts – and the latter’s
often best remembered in the one-day international arena.
of course, to Bavuma’s incredible, virtually one-motion, pick-up and throw
while airborne to run out Australian kingpin David Warner by a whisker in the second
innings of the first Test at Perth last season.
in pursuit of a formidable target of 539, had gone past the 50-mark unimpeded
and with Warner looking especially threatening on 35 when Bavuma pounced to
stick a key knife into the Baggy Greens’ heart, en route to the tourists’ eventual
triumph by 177 runs.
snarling, particularly belligerent foe, Warner had the grace to brand Bavuma’s
act “phenomenal” afterwards.
not to be overlooked is that there is another, smaller but not completely
inconsequential string to Bavuma’s admirably determined bow: he has shown that
he is far from the worst, nagging medium-paced bowler at Test level in a time
calling for his head in the Newlands Test, even if many probably do so with
some reluctance, might also ask themselves whether they were as vociferous in
wishing for Rhodes’ omission -- albeit in a different and now fairly distant time
-- after as many Tests as Bavuma has had.
had also completed 27 Test matches, his batting performance was slightly below
Bavuma’s – 1,223 runs at 32.18.
by the expanded wisdom that accompanies mounting experience, admittedly Rhodes
bucked up his act in the later period of his Test life, to the extent that he
averaged almost 50 in his closing three years or thereabouts and ended with a
better career figure of 35.66 as his average.
reasons why Bavuma shouldn’t savour that northward phenomenon as well?
the similarities in their general makeups, including hyper-energy as fieldsmen
and a “busy”, gritty rather than especially dominating nature at the crease,
I’d argue not.
It ain’t quite
as straightforward as some many think.
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