It’s time for Bavuma to claim his fireman’s helmet
● 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.”
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.