TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
CRICKET, confounding game that it is, puts the spotlight on two players – one a tattooed, floppy fringed fast bowling batting allrounder, the other a soft-spoken, deferent batsman given to thinking carefully about what he says – and asks us to decide which of them has a degree in accounting.
If you said the batsman, you’d be wrong. But Dwayne Pretorius is no boring bean counter and Temba Bavuma has plenty going for him besides being a well-mannered young man.
Like a place in the South African one-day squad picked to play Ireland in Benoni next Sunday, a group that also features Pretorius.
But while Pretorius’ selection has been accepted as an opportunity earned, or at least not been questioned, Bavuma’s has been greeted grumpily.
It is, if you dip into certain social media cesspools, at best the selectorial silliness of forcing the square peg of a test player into the round hole of a place in an ODI side and at worst another example of transformation trumping cricketing priorities.
What is it about cricket people – particularly South African cricket people – that makes them shoot down an idea before it has had the chance to stand up?
In 39 list A matches Pretorius has scored six half-centuries and taken 48 wickets. Bavuma has played 69 games in the format, scoring a century and five 50s.
Pretorius is uncapped at international level and Bavuma has played 11 tests.
So far so OK. Why wouldn’t you play both of them against the Irish?
Both because the squad numbers just 13 and because games against opponents of this quality are valuable only as a test of depth.
So why put them in the squad if they are not going to make it into the XI?
Bavuma’s test experience counts for something, but his inclusion next Sunday will allow the selectors to judge his suitability in the format. Especially if, as expected, he bats at the top of the order.
“I’ve discussed this with him over the last 18 months or so,” Bavuma’s coach at the Lions, Geoff Toyana, said.
“It’s something he’s thought about and is keen to do. I’m very excited to see how he does if he gets himself in. He’s a smart cricketer and he understands his game.
“In the field he’s as good as Jonty Rhodes, who you could say played for South Africa for some time as a specialist fielder because his batting stats were not quite up there.”
South Africa have played 35 ODIs since Bavuma made his test debut in December 2014. How come he hasn’t been thought of as a one-day option until now?
“He’s been batting at No. 5 and 6 for us because we’ve had experienced guys like Alviro Petersen and Neil McKenzie opening,” Toyana said. “And at the time we were thinking of using him to open he was playing test cricket.”
Now that Bavuma’s chance is to hand, Toyana has put in extra hours.
“He’s worked well with me this week,” Toyana said. “We’ve chatted a lot about plans and the key things he needs to do – get himself in and keep a clear head, and just play the next ball.
“Can you imagine Temba getting a hundred on (ODI) debut opening the batting? That would spin things around.”
And how. Just like Chris Morris moving to the Titans before last season turned Pretorius’ world on its head.
“When Chris Morris left us it gave him an opportunity to stake his claim,” Toyana said. “If Chris had stayed I don’t think Dwaine would have played.
“His work ethic is unbelievable, and his embracing of the opportunity and taking charge as one of the senior layers in a young side has been exemplary.
“I believe he can challenge the Chris Morrises and Wayne Parnells of this world.
“For us, he’s a batsman before he’s a bowler – and South Africa need a batting allrounder.”
You can count on the fact that Pretorius doesn’t need a degree to know that.