Yes, he is short. Yes, whenever he attends a press conference the journalists have more questions about his height than anything else. Yes, he belongs to the country where the ‘colour’ of the person makes a huge difference. Yes, he became the first non-white South African Test cricketer to score a Test century. With the top-class cricket he has been playing for South Africa, he clearly has been working towards making his country a place where “where everyone is seen irrespective of colour.” The avid followers of cricket, be it anywhere across the globe, will tend to remember the name Temba Bavuma and his numbers, rather than his colour.
As an 11-year-old, when asked where does he see himself 15 years later, Bavuma said, “I see myself in fifteen years in my suit and shaking [then-president Thabo] Mbeki’s hand congratulating me for making the South African side.” Guess what? The Little Man fulfilled his dream two years in advance. He was 24 when Quinton de Kock suffered an ankle injury and made way for Bavuma to make his maiden appearance on the international platform. Getting an opportunity to play for your country can be difficult, but what is trickier is to adapting the conditions and absorbing the pressure in order to deliver. Considering the colour issue in South Africa, Bavuma was not expected to receive several chances to prove himself.
South Africa’s home series against the West Indies in 2014 was Bavuma’s first Test series. Unfortunately, he had a terrible first two Tests scoring 10 and 15. He was more than sure that he wouldn’t be recalled anytime soon for the Test squad. He failed to grab the once in a lifetime opportunity. Six months later, thanks to AB de Villiers’ paternity leave, Bavuma was roped in for the Bangladesh tour for two Tests. While the Test series is remembered only for the rains that ruined the tour, Bavuma will recollect it forever as a series where his Test journey had finally found a direction. He made his maiden Test fifty.
It took him three Tests more to enter history books. Following the fighting fifty in Bangladesh and a couple of persistent innings in the forgettable India tour, he earned a place in South Africa’s squad for the home series against England. They played the second Test in Cape Town, his hometown. He grew up in Langa, about 10kms away from the stadium. The Cape Town Test was a near full-house. The entire Newlands had flocked the stadium to witness a tiny man, make the giant English men dance to his tunes. It all began with chants of “Hashim Hashim” after the South African Veteran Hashim Amla recorded a superb double century.
However, the crowd had a moment, even better, in store for them; Bavuma gave them a memory for a lifetime. Bavuma, who was playing just his second Test at his home ground, finally entered the triple digits. He had most of his family members, cheering for him at the top of their voices, from the stands along with thousands of fans from Newlands and Langa. And there was his dad, who had dreamt of this moment more than Bavuma, standing proudly, fighting tears as he watched the crowd switch into chants of “Temba! Temba!”
The century did wonders to the young black South Africans more than Bavuma. The celebrations in the Cape Town Stadium narrated a million stories. Bavuma had done something special; he had given the young black people of South Africa some hope of succeeding in any profession, provided they worked hard and believed in themselves.
From there, there was no looking back for the 27-year-old. He knew, amidst all the tough competition of bagging a spot in South Africa’s Test side, he had etched his place for some time, at least.
More importantly, the tiny shoulders have proved to be strong enough to carry the responsibility when the top and the middle-order batsmen have collapsed. He has saved them, down the order, several times now in the last few months and he still continues to do so.
In the ongoing South Africa’s tour of England, they lost the first Test at the Lord’s before squaring the series at Nottingham. When both the teams locked horns in the Oval, the English pacers gathered their best of the forms to wreck the Proteas’ line-up. After putting 353 runs on the board in the first innings, England put up a solid performance with the ball. Their debutant, Toby-Roland Jones took advantage of the Africans being unaware of his bowling style.
When Bavuma entered the crease, South Africa were struggling at 47 for 5 and he had Chris Morris at the other end. Displaying, yet again, one of his finest pieces with patience, Bavuma stood strong like a rock and held the South African batting line-up as a sticky tape at the bottom of the order. After the dismissals of Morris and Maharaj, Bavuma found a partner in Kagiso Rabada, who provided him with the required support. The two added 53 runs for the eighth wicket before Rabada fell to Stuart Broad. The next batsman in was Morne Morkel, who sustained the English ruthless attack with Bavuma for some more time.
The 27-year-old finally became debutant, Toby’s fifth wicket and eventually, South Africa were bundled out for 175. With this enduring knock, Bavuma might have helped South Africa from escaping a defeat. It was not the first time when Bavuma entered to bat with almost half of the batsmen already back into the dugout. He played similar knocks earlier against Australia and New Zealand and in almost all occasions, South Africa went on to seal the match.
When Bavuma travelled with the Proteas for his first-ever Australian tour in November 2016, he did not have great numbers to back him in the side. However, that particular tour discovered Bavuma’s value as a crucial part of South Africa’s Test side.
In Perth, when Bavuma came in to bat, South Africa had been struggling at 81 for 5 and he had de Kock with him in the middle. Bavuma scored a fighting 51; the duo dragged the total to 244 and eventually, South Africa won the match. In Hobart, South Africa once again needed Bavuma to rescue them. When he walked in, his side was at a miserable 76 for 4. Once again he had de Kock with him. Bavuma, who looked absolutely flawless that day, only managed 74. Although South Africa won the Test and the series, Bavuma was not happy as he had failed again to convert a good start into a big knock.
In Wellington, the two – Bavuma and de Kock – were again together to pull South Africa back into the game. Their partnership began when South Africa were 94 for 6. Neither of them scored a hundred but their stand of 160 runs ensured their side won the match.
In all these innings, Bavuma had a partner who had shared the pressure of scoring runs with him. That was not the case when he was batting in the ongoing Test at the Oval. He needs to work on making the full use of a great start. He cannot settle with just fifties. He has been the strength of the South African tail and to lead that, he has to play responsibly and keep himself motivated because there will be occasions when things might not go his way.