Bavuma makes history, but next challenge awaits
Temba Bavuma has gone where only 20 other men have by scoring a Test century in the wake of making a pair. The list features four South Africans, three of whom were captains at the time of their hundreds.
But none of them have been like Bavuma, whose sites of struggle stretch far beyond the boundaries of cricket grounds into the hearts and minds of the game’s followers – many of whom are openly or latently racist. Indeed, it’s difficult to see how Bavuma’s comeback in these terms isn’t the greatest in South Africa’s history.
In the first Test against West Indies at Centurion, that started on February 28 – Bavuma’s debut as South Africa’s Test captain – he was trapped in front second ball and was caught behind for a golden duck. Alzarri Joseph claimed his wicket both times.
Bavuma has had nine noughts among his 97 innings. He has been dismissed without scoring in consecutive innings once before – against Sri Lanka in January 2017 – but that was in two matches. So the pair, which came more than four months after his team shambled their way to defeat against the Netherlands in Adelaide on their way out of the T20 World Cup, prompting him to relinquish the captaincy of that side, would have hit him hard.
His 185 runs in six innings was enough to top South Africa’s averages in a lost Test series in Australia in December and January. The 109 he made to power his team to a series-deciding victory in a home ODI series against England in January and February looked like evidence that he had turned the corner.
Two ducks in three balls in Centurion said otherwise, but Bavuma was not done. At the Wanderers last week, he fell leg-before to Jason Holder for 28 before scoring a career-best 172 – the match-winning performance delivered under the pressure of taking guard at 8/2 with his team only 77 ahead.
After the match Bavuma said he had recovered from the shock of the T20 World Cup exit, which had left him visibly devastated: “I’m past it now. It’s happened and I’ve moved on from it. I’m here now and my mind is in a different space.” That’s not to say the experience, however excoriating, wasn’t valuable: “There were things that I learnt in Australia, and when I returned from the tour I sat down and thought through them. I looked at where I needed to improve my game and I hope the results were there for everyone to see in the England ODI series and the hundred I made. In cricket you learn something new every day.”
Like what it feels like to gain entry to an elite band of players. Jackie McGlew faced a total of three deliveries for no runs when Brian Statham had him caught behind and trapped him in front at Lord’s in June 1955. South Africa’s captain, Jack Cheetham, had his elbow broken by Fred Trueman in the second innings, retired hurt, and was ruled out of the next Test, at Old Trafford. McGlew was handed the captaincy and scored 104 not out in the first innings.
At Kingsmead in December 2011, when South Africa were led by Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis edged Chanaka Welegedara to second slip and, via the batter’s helmet, swept Rangana Herath to short leg. He lasted three and seven deliveries. Kallis bounced back with a career-best 224 at Newlands.
Faf du Plessis made nought and nought off one and six against Pakistan in Centurion in December 2018. Shaheen Shah Afridi had him caught in the gully and at long leg. Du Plessis’ counterpart, Sarfaraz Ahmed, also bagged a pair. In the first innings of the next match, at Newlands, Sarfaraz scored 56 and Du Plessis made 103.
Bavuma’s next challenge is to lead South Africa in their series of three ODIs against the Windies that starts in East London on Thursday. He will do so without Wiaan Mulder, who has a side strain, and Keshav Maharaj, who ruptured his Achilles tendon during the Wanderers Test and is set to undergo surgery on Friday. Wayne Parnell and Tabraiz Shamsi have replaced the injured players.
“It’s a massive loss, and it’s actually not nice to talk about it,” Bjorn Fortuin, the only other specialist spinner in South Africa’s squad, told a press conference on Tuesday (March 14) about Maharaj’s removal from the equation. “Nevermind his natural ability with the ball and bat, he’s got lots of experience and leadership qualities.”
Fortuin, who has played three ODIs compared to Maharaj’s 27 and Shamsi’s 41, accepted conditionally the opportunity created by Maharaj’s misfortune: “The spot that has been opened puts responsibility on me. That’s a high standard that has to be met.”
But Fortuin was confident the positivity that helped South Africa prevail against England and West Indies, under the new coaching regime of Shukri Conrad and Rob Walter, would again be significant.
“Everyone has that feeling of a clean slate,” Fortuin said. “It feels like a fresh environment. Everyone’s trying to enjoy cricket again. It’s fresh faces and fresh ideas, and not a lot of baggage from the past.”
But here’s a fact from the past that Bavuma would be proud to be part of: all four times a South Africa player has responded to a pair by scoring a century, his team have won.