Bavuma: Fresh challenge … and new level?

Temba Bavuma (Gallo)
Temba Bavuma (Gallo)

Cape Town – It helps that he will leave our shores in a rich vein of form.

But Temba Bavuma’s imminent stint in English county cricket with Northamptonshire – he flies out on Thursday – could also be a vital catalyst for the Proteas Test batsman finally shifting to a new, richer level of statistical prosperity for the national cause.

The diminutive player will turn 29 on day four of what is scheduled to be his first of eight intended four-day County Championship matches against Lancashire, beginning at Old Trafford next Tuesday.

That sort of birthday milestone certainly takes a cricketer quite substantially beyond the category of “promising” … and the perceptive, proud and self-motivated Bavuma will know that.

For truth be told, he has not quite yet matched in pure weight of runs what he so abundantly demonstrates in solid technique and tenacious temperament in Test matches for South Africa -- for whom he debuted in now quite distant December 2014 against West Indies in Port Elizabeth.

After a not inconsiderable 36 appearances, the Capetonian-born scrapper averages 33.00, which is well below what many purists and sound judges believe he is capable of.

In several series -- perhaps tellingly including all of superpowers England, India and Australia in their own habitat – Bavuma has often looked just about top of the pile in Proteas whites for comfort and textbook correctness at the crease, while somehow, unfathomably, not always experiencing the kind of statistical returns his endeavours have arguably deserved.

That just happens to some cricketers … and at some point either the selectors reluctantly lose patience in them, or the individual concerned suddenly catapults to altogether more productive, consistent delivery and all doubts are quickly subdued.

However unkindly and often ill-advisedly people may speak of “county pie-throwers” and the like, there is also little doubting that a dedicated period in the UK by players from abroad tends to be both cricket- and life-growing.

Of the current Proteas Test batting top five (or read: the players who turned out in the ill-fated second Test against Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth in late February), Bavuma is the only one of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and himself not yet to have represented at least one county outfit – and some have had several sojourns over the years.

There are still plenty of extremely high-calibre players from across the planet who ply their trade faithfully in the County Championship, which is also experiencing a resurgence in crowd support at some venues, and the general landscape can present vastly different challenges from one match to another.

Where one four-dayer may be played in blazing sunshine and become a paradise for prolonged crease occupation, the next may see the ball seam around prolifically under leaden skies or turn sharply, allowing batsmen the luxury of refining all aspects of their games.

Bavuma will add a welcome dose of international star quality – his unusually agile and fast-reflex fielding will be an attribute too – at The County Ground, where the Division Two outfit do not boast a special array of glittering names.

They are coached by Leeds-born David Ripley, who has given some 37 years of service, first as player and then in the mastermind’s role since 2012.

West Indies captain and all-rounder Jason Holder was their main “overseas pro”, pre-Bavuma, for the first few weeks of the current season.

The Lions player’s stint ends in mid-July, when he will be able to start to think about South Africa’s maiden exposure to the ICC’s new World Test Championship: they face India away in a tough, four-Test baptism for them in October.

Bavuma has reason to feel at least slightly miffed about his non-presence in the Proteas’ squad for the looming World Cup, as he appears to have been quite rigidly earmarked as a multi-day specialist for national needs.

That is despite doing all that could have been expected of him and more in two, widely-spaced appearances in ODIs: first he scored 113 against Ireland at Benoni in September 2016, and then – again as a busy, scurrying opener – 48 against Bangladesh at East London roughly a year later.

Highly-rated visiting television pundit/commentator Mark Nicholas was just one to express bemusement last season that Bavuma has not had further opportunities at white-ball level, considering those returns.

As if to further trample the notion that he isn’t a limited-overs “boom-boom” factor, Bavuma has just had a standout campaign as both captain and stroke-player for the victorious Lions team in the CSA T20 Challenge, including a scorching maiden century in the format (strike rate 165) in Sunday’s Wanderers final.

A wee reminder to Linda Zondi’s national selection panel: should injury strike the batting department during lengthy CWC 2019, bear in mind that Temba Bavuma won’t be terribly far away, and already handily well-versed in conditions in the host country.

Might this Northants gig be a timely introduction to a fresh chapter for Bavuma, in several senses?

Don’t bet against it.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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