Temba Bavuma: South Africa's short but significant silent guardian
Temba Bavuma never makes his presence felt. He doesn’t have the charm or the magic that makes the world stop and admire him. He is not somebody worth paying attention to.
On the cricket field, he could be the shortest man among all. With 5 feet 5 inches, his height made headlines when he was roped in the South African team. The world didn’t find anything interesting in his batting and resorted to focusing on his short height and its perils.
Other than his height, what is noticeable about him is the colour of his skin. He is a player of color in a cricket team which is following a transformation policy for people of colour - it may seem to some as though that is the cause of his presence on the team. But it is only because both Duminy and De Villiers are not in the side that Bavuma has found his place.
There is nothing that necessarily stands out for the South African player. His batting is neither graceful nor elegant. Never does he play mesmerizing strokes that leave an imprint. His batting is as quiet as his presence.
But his presence matters. Just like his batting.
In the second innings of the Oval Test, England pacers clinched four wickets in 17 overs and looked good enough to end the Test on the fourth day itself. But Dean Elgar exhibited steel like determination and prevented the hosts from creating havoc.
Elgar was not alone. He was supported by Bavuma, who kept England wicket-less for 33 overs. He may not have been outstanding, but he was strong. Strong enough to tackle the English pacers in their den.
And then one delivery from Toby Roland-Jones crashed on his front leg which was planted in front of the stumps. The third umpire sent him back, erasing all his good work. His fall made everybody forget about his fight that lasted for 97 balls.
It was Elgar about whom everybody talked after the match. The South African opener’s hundred was exceptional but it overshadowed Bavuma’s valiant fight.
In the first innings, the right-hand batsman arrived at the crease with Proteas struggling at four for 47 and then he saw his team slipping to seven for 61. The threat of a follow-on was looming large but he fought hard.
Batting with the tail-enders he pushed the total to 175 and then edged Roland-Jones to the wicket-keeper. Again the dismissal undid his fine work and everybody forgot about his rock solid 52.
This is the story of Temba Bavuma. Since his debut, he is South Africa’s most reliable lower middle order batsman. When the team is in trouble, this short man steps up, grinds himself, tags with the tail-enders and bails his team out. He doesn’t pile up a mountain of runs, but he scores crucial runs. It is not a glamorous job, it is a dirty task and he excels at it.
Match after match, he hits those unremarkable thirties and fifties that don’t stand out but are essential for South Africa’s survival and he is happy with the lack of attention and appreciation he receives.
He scored his maiden hundred in a Test which witnessed two double hundreds and a knock of 150. His hundred was forgotten.
At Perth in 2016, he scored a gutsy 51 to rescue his team from a situation of five down for 81. But de Kock’s 84 in the same innings and his team’s mammoth total in the second innings overshadowed his efforts.
In the next Test at Hobart, in the South Africa’s only innings he scored 74 runs after facing 204 balls. Australia’s entire team played 197 balls in their first innings. Only de Kock scored more runs than the right-hand batsman in the match. Again the honors were shared by de Kock and the bowlers who dismantled the Aussies for 85 and 161 runs.
At Wellington earlier this year, responding to New Zealand’s 268, South Africa was six down for 94 when Bavuma’s majestic 89 and de Kock’s quick-fire 91 allowed the Proteas to reach to 359 runs. They won the game by eight wickets, with Keshav Maharaj claiming the man-of-the-match award for his eight wickets.
Since his debut in 2014, the right-hander has remained a prolific batsman at number six in international cricket. Across the world, only Stokes (1635 runs, 2436 balls) and Asad Shafiq (1115 runs, 2205 balls) have scored more runs and faced more balls than him at this position.
But somehow all these contributions have failed to garner appreciation for this extremely talented and hard-working cricketer.
Maybe sometime in the future, the world will pause for a moment and admire his contributions. Till then, he will continue to rescue South Africa from disastrous situations, with little support from the other end and by batting in a style that is not very noticeable.