Temba Bavuma has been dropped and instructed to return to the domestic circuit to force his way back into the Test team through “weight of runs,” with Rassie van der Dussen assured of an extended stint in the South African middle order.
Faf du Plessis confirmed there will only be one change to the starting XI for the New Year’s Test, with Pieter Malan debuting in place of the injured Aiden Markram, despite Bavuma passing a fitness test on the eve of the match. Bavuma proceeded to have a long net session on Wednesday, where South Africa’s batting consultant, Jacques Kallis, closely watched and offered advice, especially about hitting the ball with softer hands but it was not enough to create room for Bavuma in the team. Instead, he is likely to be released to play in a round of four-day franchise series matches which start on Monday, January 6.
“We feel its the right thing to do to stick with Rassie. As a player, you feel like you get a bit confidence when you get an extended run – runs or no runs. Luckily he scored some runs in the first Test,” du Plessis said. “A big part of international cricket is the mental aspect of belonging. Rassie has got a real composure to him and a presence when he bats. He ticks all the right boxes.”
Though South Africa’s current squad has only been named for the first two matches, the indication that van der Dussen will keep his spot could mean that Bavuma will not feature in the series at all. Given Bavuma’s recent form – with no Test half-centuries in his last 12 innings and only one in 2019 – du Plessis said Bavuma understands why he has been dropped and what he needs to do to get his place back.
“Temba is on board. Something we are trying to achieve as a batting unit is to raise our standards a little bit higher, push our performances from a runs point of view. He is on board with the process to try and get guys to score big runs,” du Plessis said.
Bavuma will have at most three first-class fixtures in which to do that in the domestic four-day competition which dovetails with this Test series. But anything Bavuma does in those matches will likely only count in the second half of the year when South Africa next play Tests in West Indies.
“If you’re not finding yourself starting now, it’s about weight of runs,” du Plessis said. “Temba was injured before the start of the series but it was a talking point even before the series – whose positions do we need to make sure there is more competition for?
“It’s about finding guys that are knocking on the door all the time to push us to a level where we can take this batting line-up to win games of cricket consistently. Temba will be the first to say that his performance over the last while wasn’t where it needed to be. Weight of runs would be the way back into the team, like it would for anyone.”
While that covers the cricketing elements of the conversation, it does not the South African cultural elements. Bavuma’s absence, and the injury to Lungi Ngidi in the Mzansi Super League, meant that South Africa took the field with only one black African player at SuperSport Park and will do the same at Newlands. Their transformation target – calculated on average over a season – requires that the team fields six players of colour of which at least two must be black African. South Africa will miss that target but du Plessis hinted that South Africa’s priorities had shifted to performance, and away from politics.
“We don’t see colour and I think it is important that people understand that opportunity is very important, opportunity for everyone. Temba will be the first guy to acknowledge that he got a very good opportunity. It’s important that we keep producing very good cricketers. Right now, we need to win cricket matches, we need to win Test matches and we need to raise the level of performance for all of us. It’s important that we keep making sure there is a level below us where there are players pushing,” du Plessis said.
However, he also offered Bavuma a way back in later this season, in shorter formats. “Temba in white ball has shown a lot of growth in his own game so maybe there will be an opportunity in the white-ball format for him,” du Plessis said.
Bavuma has played two ODIs for South Africa, opening the batting, and scored a century on debut against Ireland in September 2016 and 48 against Bangladesh more than a year later. Hashim Amla’s retirement may have created room for Bavuma in that format. He made his T20 debut on the last tour to India with returns of 49 and 27* and was ninth on the Mzansi Super League run charts, where he captained the Jozi Stars. Bavuma was being spoken about as a candidate for the T20 World Cup under the previous administration and it would appear that the shorter formats are where his focus needs to be for now.