TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
TEMBA Bavuma is a serious young man. And a good thing, too, because he needed all his reserves of that admirable quality to dig SA out of the dwang in Chittagong on Tuesday.
Not that being dismissed for 248 inside the first day of a test series is what cricket’s top team would consider a respectable performance – especially as Bangladesh are second from bottom in the rankings, and considering SA were 104/1 at lunch.
But without Bavuma and his 54, a maiden half-century in his third test innings, SA would have veered far closer to ignominy than they did. Instead, they were merely mediocre.
“When we had the opportunity to get more momentum into our game, we lost it,” Bavuma said. “Mentally we were a bit weak.”
SA began to lose their way in a second session in which just two wickets went down but only 61 runs were scored. Eleven of the 29 overs bowled were maidens, six of them consecutively by Mohammad Shahid – who conceded nine runs in his first over but hit the showers with 0/34 off 17 overs and had Vernon Philander and Bavuma dropped at slip after tea.
The pressure told in the third over of the third session, when Hashim Amla pushed forward with hard hands and edged to become debutant Mustafizur Rahman’s maiden test wicket. The left-arm sensation snuck his next ball past JP Duminy’s pad to trap him in front. Two deliveries later Quinton de Kock’s bad dream continued when Mustafizur launched his off-stump into the outfield.
Three wickets for no runs in the space of four balls reduced SA, who had gone to tea on 165/3, to 173/6.
“That’s where the momentum swung in their favour; from that point they nailed it down,” Bavuma said. “That spell was world class.”
He should know, having taken guard in the 10th over before tea and hung tough through seven partnerships before holing out in the deep to end the innings and complete Mustafizur’s haul of 4/37.
It the way of modern cricket that the better performers are asked to explain their team’s failures, but there was no hiding Bavuma’s light under that bushel on Tuesday.
Wearing a beard that looked bigger than he is and wielding a blade apparently taller than his 1.61 metres, he batted with beautiful balance between front and back foot and showed attacking intent that was as sound as it was refreshing.
Bavuma played sturdily and crisply to score all around the wicket in an effort that stood in stark relief to innings that dwindled into strokelessness or tentativeness.
Nobody is AB de Villiers, the absent imminent father whose place in the order Bavuma inherited. But, on Tuesday, when Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl and Faf du Plessis all did the hard yards to reach 30 and yet did not see 50, no player could have been more valuable to SA’s cause than Bavuma.
More of his approach will be needed on Wednesday when Bangladesh resume on 7/0 on a pitch that will be even flatter than it was on Tuesday.
“We’ll be trying to keep the runrate as low as possible,” Bavuma said. “Patience is the big thing. We’re not just going to bowl them over.”
Done properly, that won’t be half as pretty as Bavuma’s innings. But it would bring relief to the cricketminded folks of a country who need the real SA team to stand up already.