It’s time for Bavuma to claim his fire­man’s hel­met

Sunday Times - - Sport Rugby/Cricket - By KHANYISO TSHWAKU

● The evo­lu­tion of SA’s Test bat­ting group means that at some point the cur­rent young guns will have to as­sume the cru­cial bat­ting po­si­tions once the se­niors shuf­fle off the scene.

Of the un­der-29s in the group, Temba Bavuma, 28, is the old­est, and with 34 matches un­der his belt, he’s also the most ex­pe­ri­enced.

He is cur­rently en­trusted with the num­ber six slot, known as the trap­door to the tail or — for those who watched In­dia’s VVS Lax­man es­say — some clas­si­cal rear­guards, the fire­fighter’s slot.

Some coun­tries use the num­ber six po­si­tion dif­fer­ently, with Eng­land and Aus­tralia of­ten re­serv­ing the spot for their most ju­nior bats­man or, in some cases, a se­nior pro who is close to re­tire­ment.

Bavuma’s cur­rent Test av­er­age of 35.41 and the fact that he’s only con­verted one of 14 50-plus scores into a ton would point to­wards un­der­achieve­ment.

Cur­rent SA Un­der-19 coach and long­time Bavuma ob­server Lawrence Ma­hat­lane said Bavuma was a vic­tim of his suc­cess with bat­ting with the lower-or­der.

At the Highveld Lions, Bavuma bats at num­ber four.

“Over the years, Temba has en­joyed bat­ting at four for the Lions and with time, that’s his po­si­tion and that’s where he’d like to bat for the Proteas. Once you get into that po­si­tion, you’ll start to see a com­pres­sion of runs be­cause bat­ting at six presents an in­ter­est­ing bal­ance,” Ma­hat­lane said.

“There’ve been some very good play­ers at six around the world but the 50s Temba has scored have been when the team has been in trou­ble. As a coach, you’d love to have a safety net in terms of be­ing 40/4 but know­ing you have a guy who’s been proven to get you out of trou­ble. That’s mak­ing sure the team doesn’t get into trou­ble and you’ll be the first one to ad­mit he’s had the op­por­tu­nity to con­vert more than the sin­gle cen­tury he has at the mo­ment.”

Ev­ery good Test side has a world-class num­ber four. For the long­est time it was Jac­ques Kal­lis’s po­si­tion be­fore AB de Vil­liers took over.

In­dia had Sachin Ten­dulkar for the best part of two decades be­fore Vi­rat Kohli stamped his au­thor­ity, while Eng­land have Joe Root in the cov­eted spot.

Aus­tralia and New Zealand of­ten em­ployed their best bats­man at three, with Kane Wil­liamson hold­ing down the first drop spot with the ex­pe­ri­enced Ross Tay­lor at four.

In bet­ter times, Aus­tralia had Us­man Khawaja at three and Steven Smith at four but the lat­ter is still serv­ing an in­ter­na­tional sus­pen­sion for his role in last year’s ball tam­per­ing saga at New­lands.

The­u­nis de Bruyn, who made 49 in the first in­nings on Fri­day, hasn’t set the world alight at num­ber four but, like Bavuma, it’s a po­si­tion where he’s scored heav­ily in fran­chise cricket.

Bavuma was well worked over by Mo­ham­mad Amir and was caught be­hind, hav­ing made just eight.

Ma­hat­lane agreed the cur­rent Proteas bat­ting set-up shouldn’t be tin­kered with but the num­ber four ques­tion has to be an­swered per­ma­nently.

Bavuma has bat­ted six times at num­ber four with 169 runs at an av­er­age of 33.8, with a high­est of 71.

“The World Cup could be the end of the road for some of the bat­ting gen­tle­men in the group, but it’s also a hard one. The guys who are left be­hind have to be set­tled in their po­si­tions and there’s ques­tions re­gard­ing that. How­ever, it’s about the in­di­vid­ual putting their hands up, but in time he’ll get his chance at four,” Ma­hat­lane said.

“Cur­rently, Hashim [Amla] is set­tled at three and he shouldn’t be dou­ble-guessed in terms of his longevity. The ques­tion at four is whether it is Faf du Plessis, Temba or The­u­nis or whether they’re happy with the cur­rent set-up.”

Pic­ture: Shaun Roy/Gallo Im­ages

Temba Bavuma has as­sumed the role of the team’s fire­fighter, but at some point he needs a sus­tained run higher up the or­der to prove he’s more than what his cur­rent bat­ting av­er­age sug­gests about his abil­i­ties.

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