TELFORD VICE in Wellington
IN the indoor nets deep in the bowels of the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Tuesday, television crews set up their microphones and cameras and awaited the day’s South African press conference victim, Temba Bavuma.
The TV types had aimed their devices at a spot that would record footage of someone around 1.8 metres tall.
Bavuma stands 19 centimetres shorter than that …
Happily, a suitably diminutive reporter was on hand to serve as Bavuma’s body double and the gizmos were re-angled.
Presently, Bavuma arrived and took refuge from a southerly wind that roared across the grandest and – most exposed – of New Zealand’s grounds at 50 kilometres an hour.
The gale was due to subside by the time the second test starts on Thursday, but Bavuma wasn’t taking that as read.
“Being a guy that doesn’t weigh that much I might have to play with bricks in my pockets,” he said to chuckles all round.
But he wasn’t being entirely unserious.
“The conditions are starkly different to what I’m used to back home.
“It’s pretty much everything I’ve been told – wickets are a bit slower, there’s not as much steep bounce, the wind is much more of a factor.
“I’m just adjusting my game to all those factors. It’s quite different to what I am used to playing in back home in Johannesburg.”
Bavuma adjusted well enough in the first test in Dunedin to score 64 in South Africa’s first innings, his first half-century in eight innings.
Had he changed much about his approach, technically and mentally, from what is had been in his previous seven trips to the crease when his best effort was 21?
“Nothing specifically,” Bavuma said. “Mentally, it’s just about being up for the fight, understanding that there will be pressure situations and trying to find a way to get through those situations.”
Seven weeks ago, after Bavuma had scored 21 runs in five innings against Sri Lanka, he spoke of the challenges he faced in an as yet unpublished interview.
“I’ve spoken to people who are close to me and they keep saying I’m not out of form, that I’m playing well,” Bavuma said then.
“My feeling is that you can’t be playing well and not scoring runs.
“I had time to reflect on the Sri Lankan series, and I don’t think there’s anything technical that stands out.
“It’s probably more from a mental point of view – probably just trying to simplify things.
“That’s the biggest thing for me: don’t look for things; just keep it simple and focus on your basics.”
Although AB de Villiers by then had withdrawn himself for selection from South Africa’s test series in New Zealand and England, in July, Bavuma felt the edge of the axe at his neck.
“We all anticipated the AB was going to come back sometime,” he said.
“He’s a world class player, and if I was told to not play because of him there’s nothing I can counter that with.”
Bavuma will be given another opportunity to learn to deal with the pressures of test cricket, and to build his argument to keep his place, at the Basin Reserve.
Fast bowler Tim Southee – who was left out in Dunedin to make room for a second spinner – is likely to be back in the mix, and on Wednesday the Kiwis will issue an update on his new-ball partner, Trent Boult, who sustained an upper leg injury in the first test.
The home side will hope he is fit, because the faster, bouncier Basin Reserve pitch won’t be much like the slow turner that put itself in the path of progress at University Oval.
Whatever the changes in personnel and the conditions, here’s something that will remain the same: Bavuma will still be 1.61 metres tall.
He wasn’t asked about that on Tuesday – New Zealanders, even their television reporters, have good manners.
But if he had been he wouldn’t have blinked.
“I’m quite used to it,” Bavuma said seven weeks ago.
“Every time I get asked about that I always try and think of a different answer.”
Now there’s an attitude to take into the middle. Perhaps he has.