Cape Town – Heading into the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan at Centurion, Temba Bavuma was an injury doubt thanks to a hamstring strain.
Declared fit on the morning of the match, the 28-year-old walked out to the middle with the Proteas struggling at 43/4 on a wicket that former captain Graeme Smith described as a “snake pit”.
Bavuma’s 53 went a long way towards getting the Proteas out of trouble, and he came back in for the second innings to knock off the winning runs as South Africa took a 1-0 lead in the series on a wicket that offered inconsistent movement and bounce throughout.
It wasn’t quite the same crisis on day two of the second Test at Newlands on Friday, but Bavuma again found himself walking in when South Africa had their backs to the wall, having lost two big wickets in the opening hour of play.
On a strip that Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur would later describe as not good enough for Test cricket, Bavuma and skipper Faf du Plessis (103) batted the visitors out of the contest.
Having put on a 156-run stand for the 5th wicket with his captain, Bavuma was eventually out for 75 when a second Test century was within touching distance.
Given the hostile conditions, it was a knock worth far more than 75 – his 13th Test half-century – but the record books will show that Bavuma once again failed to get to three figures having done all of the hard work.
It is exactly three years to the day since his historic ton against England at Newlands, and since then he has bailed South Africa out of trouble numerous times with crucial knocks from No 6.
That ability to stay measured and composed in difficult situations has become Bavuma’s major strength in this Proteas Test side, and he is considered more important to the cause with every knock, like the one he played on Friday.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing,” Bavuma told media when asked, for the umpteenth time, about not scoring enough centuries in Test cricket.
“If I look at the positive it’ll be that I managed to get the team to a strong position. I’m not trying to focus too much on my personal ambitions and milestones. Hopefully, in the near future, another opportunity will come by for me to go big.”
In March last year, Bavuma was left stranded on 95* in the first innings against Australia at the Wanderers.
“I would love to score more hundreds. If I look back in my career there have been opportunities where I have let hundreds go missing, today being one of them,” he said.
“I haven’t been able to cross the three-figure mark for a while and, I don’t know, maybe I should be asking you guys for the answers.
“But as long as I am contributing to the cause of the team and the guys are happy with my commitment and effort then I can sleep with a smile on my face.”
Ahead of South Africa’s tour to England in 2017, Du Plessis said that he considered Bavuma as a logical replacement for AB de Villiers at No 4.
That responsibility is currently with Theunis de Bruyn (out for 13 on Friday), who continues his struggles on the Test stage despite a superb hundred in Sri Lanka last year.
Bavuma is certainly showing the technique and application at the crease to suggest that he could do a job up the order, but while he acknowledged that No 4 is his favoured position, he backed De Bruyn to come good.
“I don’t get involved in the batting order, but if the team feels that I can do a job for them at No 4 then I will definitely take it with both hands,” he said.
“We all back Theunis at No 4. He is a guy who has a strong record of getting big hundreds and I think that’s why you find him at No 4.
“There is not too much worry around him because we know he is a quality player and on his day he can do wonderful things.”