We could do a little better in believing in Bavuma’s bravura
What you see is not what you get from Temba Bavuma, who stands tall when it matters
Had there been 163cm to Temba Bavuma his innings at Kingsmead on Wednesday might have endured for significantly longer than its 117 minutes.
Alas, there are no more than 162cm to Bavuma. So when Quinton de Kock drove meatily at Vishwa Fernando, who laid a hoof on the ball and deflected it onto the stumps as Bavuma dived for safety, the biggest heart in the game thumped loudly in the littlest bloke on the field while the television umpire made up his mind.
There was 1cm in it. Maybe less. Bavuma was out; gone for 47 – another unfinished innings. At least he didn’t leave any promises unfulfilled on Thursday, when he tried to sweep Lasith Embuldeniya and was trapped in front for three.
But both innings fit neatly into the awkward narrative. Bavuma looks like a high quality player, walks, talks and thinks like a high quality player, and fashions his strokes like a high quality player. Thing is, he doesn’t deliver as befits the high quality player he surely is often enough to keep the whispers from rising like damp.
You can hear them as he stalks off …
Broadly, they range from: “Not again! Bad luck Temba.” To: “This oke, dunno hey.” To: “They can’t keep picking him just ’cause he’s black.”
Yes, Mzansi, it is about politics. It always has been and it will be for decades yet. It’s a disgrace for any South African to think otherwise; a different kind of #MeToo moment that should see the perpetrator pilloried. Denying the politics that hovers around figures like Bavuma amounts to a level of mental and emotional loadshedding that even Pravin Gordhan couldn’t fix.
That goes for the players more than for anyone else. If they think they are excused from their bigger responsibility to help build a better society by doing more than merely play cricket then that society has failed them and they are failing it. They need to talk politics at every opportunity. Better yet, they need to act politically. Colin Kaepernick is showing them how. Why don’t we know what they think of the way SA is being run? If they don’t want to tell or show us then they also shouldn’t tell us which god they worship or use their celebrity to save the rhino.
Bavuma has spoken seriously about his responsibility as a black cricketer in a country where too many people apparently struggle to accept the fact of his existence, and by extension his presence in SA’s team. Here’s some news for them: cricket in our country has a future without whites but not without blacks.
So let’s take this on in the dog whistle terms the denialists prefer. Is Bavuma failing as a cricketer? Like many questions asked in and about SA, there is no black or white answer.
He has scored 13 half-centuries but only one century in 57 Test innings, and because he has not reached 50 in four trips to the crease you can feel the damp rising again.
Happily there are more ways than one to measure a player’s value on the field. For a fresh example see Vishwa Fernando’s monumental innings at Kingsmead on Saturday. He scored six not out but batted for 73 minutes and faced 27 balls, and without his effort Sri Lanka wouldn’t have earned only the 13th one-wicket win in Test history.
The difference is that far less is expected from Fernando, a No 11, than a frontline practitioner like Bavuma. What you get from Fernando is a bonus. You want much more from Bavuma. Is he delivering?
Bavuma has faced an average of 62.33 balls in his 57 innings. That’s fewer than Dean Elgar (84.61), Hashim Amla (75.59), Faf du Plessis (70.03) or Aiden Markram (67.93), measured from Bavuma’s debut in December 2014.
He is doing better than Quinton de Kock (48.57), and you can count on him to deal with 50 or more deliveries almost half the time he bats – 24 in 57 innings so far. He has gone past 150 deliveries six times.
But there’s more to this than that. At Kingsmead Bavuma batted at No 4, where he has had eight innings and stayed alive for an average of 53.75 balls. Thing is, only two of those eight innings have started with 200 or more runs on the board. The opposite has tended to be true: five times when Bavuma has taken guard at the fall of the second wicket SA have scored fewer than 50.
A similar pattern is evident when Bavuma has batted at No 6, where he has spent most of his career: 39 innings. He’s arrived with upwards of 200 realised 13 times and north of 150 in another 18. But fewer than 100 have been scored a dozen times and under than 50 seven times.
In all, Bavuma has entered the fray with between two and five wickets down and SA in trouble – a total still in the double figures – 20 times out of 55.
In seven of those 20 innings he has scored at least 50, twice going past 70 and once falling two short of a century.
So, more than a third of the time Bavuma has walked to the middle with SA in need of rescuing, that’s what he’s done.
There’s not much to Bavuma in centimetres, but he stands tall in ways that matter much more.