Tue, 10 Dec 2019

Bavuma's T20 rise bodes well for World Cup

19 Nov 2019, 04:10 GMT+10

Cape Town - Only a few weeks ago, Temba Bavuma was contritely, quite refreshingly admitting that his "best wasn't good enough right now" as South Africa lurched toward the depressingly heavy Test series reverse in India.

"I can understand all the criticism and the flak that is coming my way," he added philosophically at a media briefing there. "As a batter your currency is runs."

While so clearly not the only Proteas batsman under-delivering in the most time-honoured format of them all, Bavuma's shaky personal series - 96 runs at 16.00, from six innings - only dragged down further his unremarkable career figures now of 1 812 runs at 31.24 from 39 Test matches.

They are perplexingly ordinary, frustrating statistics for a 29-year-old player (so slightly past the point now of "promising") who is technically very organised and has often before demonstrated the heart of a lion in difficult circumstances.

But if clouds do have silver linings, Bavuma is increasingly - and flying in the face of the initial odds in his case - showing a penchant for dramatically improving his white-ball game, and more especially in the Twenty20 environment.

While it also remains a mystery that he only sports a paltry two one-day international caps - considering his 161 runs from them at 80.50 and no further recognition since October 2017 - he is at least firming up at a rate of knots his credentials as an effervescent T20 factor at all levels.

Indeed, he is timing his run of form in that landscape extremely well considering that the T20 World Cup in Australia - the Proteas' next chance to break their ICC major tournament hoodoo - is less than a year away.

Bavuma was first recognised for the country in T20 internationals at the start of the Indian tour earlier this season, when their Subcontinent trek got off well enough: a 1-1 share of the spoils in the intended three-match series, with one washout.

Batting at "first drop" each time, the diminutive Lions player weighed in with scores of 49 (43 balls) in Mohali and then an unbeaten 27 (23 deliveries) in Bengaluru.

But he has transferred that energy into the Mzansi Super League as well, the Jozi Stars' skipper providing a ray of light amidst the defending champions' collective early angst (nought-from-four record) in the tournament - they will do extremely well just to crack the playoffs from here.

Bavuma, looking increasingly assured again in the key No 3 role, is in a neck-and-neck race with team-mate and opener Reeza Hendricks at the top of the overall runs chart in the MSL.

Each having played all four matches, Hendricks sports 161 runs at 40.25 and Bavuma just one run less at 40.00 - but his strike rate is superior, at 142 compared to 122.

Admittedly against the backdrop of notably sub-standard team totals, the latter has been top scorer in each of the Stars' last two matches, making 27 out of 108 all out on Saturday (against Nelson Mandela Bay Giants, Wanderers) and 62 out of 126 all out on Thursday (against Cape Town Blitz, Newlands).

The Capetonian match saw Bavuma stand head and shoulders above any other Jozi Stars colleague on a challenging pitch that "juiced up" in frequent periods of black south-easter drizzle.

He looked every bit an international player as he mixed up his game superbly, poking the ball into gaps for fast, sometimes audacious singles or twos, reverse sweeping at times with great assuredness and also generally choosing the right moments to go "long" and over the top - cleverly going downwind most of the time in that capacity.

While he may be unusually small in stature, Bavuma is increasingly capable of clearing the ropes comfortably, while the stealth and natural ability of his fielding is a vital extra asset to any T20 team.

Bearing in mind that a score of 40 or thereabouts in T20 is effectively worth double or more that in the 50-overs environment, he has not failed once in six knocks when you combine his two scores from the SA v India clashes with the 38, 33, 62 and 27 thus far in the Mzansi.

He also ended the last domestic season with a real flourish, notching 52 not out in the CSA T20 Challenge semi-final for the Lions against the Dolphins, and blistering 104 in the victorious final against the Warriors at the Wanderers.

Bavuma may be at a confessed loss about his Test fortunes, but he need have no such doubt or soul-searching when it comes to his burgeoning T20 game ...

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