JOHANNESBURG – An already long 2019-20 cricket season for Temba Bavuma was made to feel even longer, by the drama that unfolded when he was dropped from the Proteas team for the New Year’s Test against England.
“There was,” Bavuma admitted yesterday, “a lot of controversy.” None of which was of his making. It had already been a long and testing year; the struggles in India, the rumpus with Cricket South Africa’s administration and then the series with England.
The controversy about his axing stood in stark contrast to his previous involvement with England in a New Year’s Test four years earlier. Then he was the toast of SA, jumping and raising his arms to celebrate his maiden Test hundred. Bavuma admits he didn’t pay the adulation much attention.
“I was quite oblivious to the importance of the milestone, I just saw it as a young player, scoring his first hundred, getting a sense of what being comfortable at international level is. Obviously the country saw it differently, from a bigger point of view and gladly so,” Bavuma said.
It was almost the same this year – initially at least. “Again I was a bit oblivious to it, I don’t have my head in the media. It was days afterwards I saw articles, chats between people that you see on your phone and then I really got to understand what it meant to the masses. It was a really uncomfortable time,” he said.
Bavuma was in the squad for the first two Tests against England, but played no part at Centurion due to injury and then for the Newlands game was dropped. His axing unleashed a cacophony around transformation that could have been unbearable for many players. Bavuma found a different perspective, however.
Australia’s rise to the summit of Test cricket in the 1990s and 2000s started at the top of the order with two of the greatest opening partnerships in the game’s history.
“I never like speaking or commenting on things that have to do with race and transformation,” Bavuma said. “But I really had to confront it and find a way to deal (with) it. What helped during that period was that I tried to stick to the cricketing merits of it all, to accept the fact that I’d been left out of the team because I hadn’t been good enough, hadn’t performed as well as I should have.”
“It wasn’t going to help me if I allowed myself to drown in all the other sideshows. When I went back to the (Highveld) Lions, I knew I had to perform if I wanted to get back into the Proteas team and fortunately I was able to do that.”
Bavuma would make 180 for the Lions, forcing his way back into the Proteas Test squad and playing the final match of the series against England at the Wanderers.
“I accepted the fact (that) I was dropped. It was easy to accept, because I wasn’t the first player to be dropped nor will I be the last. All players go through periods where they don’t score runs, that gave me soberness in my mind. It allowed me to look a bit more deeply why I wasn’t performing in four-day cricket as I normally can,” Bavuma said.
One major reason Bavuma found was the imbalance that arose with his batting as he had started to achieve more success as a limited-overs player. For most of his professional career, Bavuma was viewed as a “red-ball specialist”, something that didn’t sit well with him.
“I’ve tried to expand my game a lot more, which involved playing with more risk, so in turn you’re not as tight as you used to be,” Bavuma said.
Part of becoming more expansive was to push for a spot in the 2019 World Cup squad, something he didn’t achieve. However what really grated with him was that it appeared that selectors and coaches believed he wasn’t suited to playing the limited-overs game.
“There was the element of wanting to prove to people that you can play white-ball cricket… if you keep hearing the narrative that you’re just a red-ball cricketer, when you know you’re not, at some point in time, it does get to you,” Bavuma said.
Successful campaigns for the Lions in the 2018-19 One-Day Cup and then the now defunct T20 Challenge revealed that more attacking player to the public and last season he produced his best innings for the Proteas in the one-day and T20 international series against England.
“It’s gone fairly well in white-ball cricket, I feel my game has grown. It’s unfortunate that the lockdown came at a time when I was quite confident in my game,” he said.
By Stuart Hess