There was Mitchell Starc’s deadly bowling, Pat Cummins’ fury, Aiden Markram’s brilliant hundred and David Warner and Quinton de Kock’s on and off the field controversy. The atmosphere, at the moment, is pretty heavy with the blame game. But, haven’t you forgotten to praise someone’s guts?
The tough young lad from Pretoria
Theunis de Bruyn, the boy from Pretoria, became a famous as a schoolboy. He scored 269 runs for Northern against the Free States and his consistency earned the Under-17 player of the tournament in 2010. Two years later, he would discover himself in the South Africa Under-19 side alongside Quinton de Kock. de Bruyn would end up as the third highest run-getter of that edition of ICC Under-19 World Cup downunder.
A year later, the going was tough for Theunis. He struggled to find a place in the South African provincial setup. The thoughts of applying racial quotas in the domestic arena wandered, which would make the life of white prodigies like him harder. It was one of those situations for the young guns, where he discovers himself in a state of confusion – whether to stay and chase their dreams or leave to make a better living.
Being a student of B.com Accounting in the University of Pretoria, Theunis could have chosen to focus more on his studies and establish a shining career out of it, but when cricket becomes a passion, it’s always tough for anyone to think anything else other than cricket. Theunis chose the path which the likes of Imran Khan and Sourav Ganguly chose during their days of wilderness – stuck with their passion and chased their dreams.
In the meantime, a career-threatening hip injury halted his career for almost two years, but people from Pretoria are pretty tough. They don’t seem to bog down easily. Theunis fought back.
In 2014, he led his University to Red Bull Campus Cricket World Title in England. In the same year, the quota system was introduced in South Africa’s domestic arena. All of a sudden, Thenius’ dreams of becoming an international cricketer took a heavy blow. But, he was not going to give up easily. While playing against a Protea-laden Titans side in a couple of pre-season warm-ups, Thenius dazzled with the bat. The doors were opened for him. There was no looking back.
A painful debut, but it was not the end of world
The boy transformed into a man. Season after season, he continued to score heavily, which prompted the South African selectors to include him in the Test squad during the Boxing Day Test in 2016. A year later, he made his debut in white clothes against New Zealand. Sadly, the debut was a painful one.
In the third Test at Hamilton, Matt Henry’s back of a length delivery ended Thenius’ stay quickly. Theunis’ Test career started off with a duck as he poked one outside off. But even Graham Gooch and Saeed Anwar had such a horrifying Test debut and thus, South Africa persisted with him. He was seen coming out to bat at Lord’s last year. Theunis notched up 48 runs off 120 balls, but yet again, his stay was cut short by a weak-poke outside off against James Anderson. That knock helped to arrest a collapse.
Theunis de Bruyn Test career so far:
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) August 7, 2017
In the second innings, Theunis was found wanting against a straighter one from Moeen Ali and edged to slip. His weakness outside off was exposed at Manchester, where yet again, Jimmy and Ali nailed him. The footwork was weak while the tendency to poke or expose the edge too early made him a still-not-ready-for-international –cricket customer. He had to go back in domestic arena to work on his shortcomings.
He is not a soft target, but a tough guy
With players like Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma around in the middle-order, the place of a certain Theunis de Bruyn was not guaranteed. But runs continued to flow from his bat in First Class cricket, which forced the selectors to include him in the first Test against Australia at Durban. Well, his departure in first innings, was similar like Hamilton, Lord’s and Manchester – stuck on the crease against Mitchell Starc’s angled delivery from round the wicket an edged one outside off to Tim Paine.
The critics expressed their frustration and were vociferous about the inclusion of Bavuma.
Things changed after the fourth day.
While chasing 417 in the fourth innings, the top-order of South Africa went back in the hut in a quick succession leaving the home team reeling at 49 for 4. The situation required an admixture of aggression and persistence to, at first, tame the Australian attack and then, arrest a collapse.
Aiden Markram exhibited the controlled aggression while Theunis played the role of a sheet anchor.
Australia engaged the pair of Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon while Markram and Theenis were batting. Cummins was bowling quick defying the heat and his fuller-length in and around middle and off would have tested the very best on that slow, low and abrasive Durban surface.
Theunis decided to go behind the line more and more rather than coming forward like he did in Manchester. Moreover, he shunned the habit of getting stuck on the crease and expose his edge like an amateur. The feet were moving fine while the offstump was well-guarded when Cummins was targeting the top off in the first and second session on Day 4. Then, when, Cummins banged on the well-directed shorter balls, Theunis dropped his wrists to execute an excellent evasive technique to let them go. Certainly, leaving the ball matters a lot in test cricket.
Nathan Lyon was operating with a leg slip against Theunis. The deliveries were tossed up in such a way so that he goes for the sweep and loops a catch to leg slip. Theunis decided to take the unorthodox route – nailed the reverse-sweep to dispatch Lyon for boundaries. The Australians had left the offside pretty vacant and Thenius cashed on big time.
At a crucial juncture of the match, de Bruyn and Markram’s partnership was flourishing, which forced Steve Smith to bring back his lethal weapon Mitchell Starc into attack. In the 35th over, de Bruyn took Starc to the cleaners by smashing three boundaries. Starc ended the over with utter frustration.
“Theunis took it to a guy like Mitchell Starc, which was probably unexpected for most out there. It showed the character in the side”, Markram said about Thenius’ battle against Starc.
Theunis’ short but brief knock of 36 came to an end as he nicked one behind. It was the extra-pace and bounce of Josh Hazlewood, which outclassed him rather than poor technique. As he walked back towards the dressing room, he was received with accolades by the Durban crowd for his patience and guts under trying circumstances.
South Africa lost the Test, but the incident between David Warner and Quinton de Kock overshadowed all the cricketing matters. Yet, the talks about Markram and de Kock’s innings, Starc’s lethal bowling and Cummins’ raw pace are discussed, but somewhere, Theunis de Bruyn’s guts are trying to make an entry but failing.
When a consistently-failed-person shows his fighting character under pressure, he deserves a place in your cricketing conversation. Gutsy characters are always special and if they can maintain it, they could reach the peak of excellence. Personally, Theunis gave me the impression of a terrific hard-nut-to-crack sort of character who could be a vital cog in this South African middle-order. Maybe, South Africa would give Bavuma a chance at Port Elizabeth, but I just feel, Thenius deserves yet another opportunity to prove his worth.