JOHANNESBURG – Timing is everything in cricket.
Temba Bavuma timed his return to form perfectly. A man under pressure, after appearing underdone in Cape Town, his 95 not out took South Africa to a position of utter dominance by tea of the second day, and almost guaranteed the series win.
On a pleasant day in familiar surrounds, Bavuma served up a timely reminder of his talents, becoming increasingly fluent in scoring his 10th Test half-century.
The thousands gathered at a festive groaned as one when last man Morné Morkel edged his very first ball, leaving Bavuma marooned on 95.
Bavuma may ply his trade for the Cobras now, but every groundsman at the Bullring saluted him like a little brother when he walked off.
They watched him make his first, tentative steps into the paid ranks, looked on as he grew in stature, before making his mark internationally.
A Test hundred at The Wanderers would have been very special for Bavuma, but those in the home dressing-room don’t pay too much mind to statistics.
They value contributions under the cosh, and Bavuma’s calm through the late, first day shower of wickets, and then on to the sunshine of the second day, would have enthused them no end.
He took his sweet, African time in the morning, spending 28 balls on 26, before unfurling some crisp stroke-play and certain, balletic footwork.
With each drive and pull, the cheers in the Bullring grew louder.
They reached a crescendo when Bavuma was in cahoots with the kamikaze Keshav Maharaj, he of the Zorro school of batting.
Maharaj flayed to his heart’s content, carting a tiring Nathan Lyon into the stands more than once. It was dangerous, but delicious. It was typical Maharaj.
The crowd didn’t know what to make of it; thrilled by the fearless nature of Maharaj, but also well aware that one false stroke may spell ba-doom for Bavuma at the other end.
As it was, when Maharaj left the door ajar for Pat Cummins, the speedster continued his Wanderers love-in by completing his second five-wicket haul at the Bullring.
The first was way back in 2011, but injuries have been unkind to Cummins since then, with only 13 Tests to show for his considerable talent.
In 2018, he too returned to a happy hunting ground and, like Bavuma, found joy once more.
The sense of timing at The Wanderers wasn’t all good for South Africa, however.
Quinton de Kock, who had just taken a bees-knees of a catch standing up to Vernon Philander, was then brought to his knees by one of the bumbling buggers the next over – just as he was trying to complete a stumping!
As the shadows lengthened, and the amber nectar flowed on, a small choir assembled at the Corlett Drive End of the ground.
They went through quite a repertoire, with football chants, then some struggle tunes, and a remix of ‘Ole, Ole’ to ‘Morné, Morné’.
Naturally, there was a national anthem chucked in before day’s end.
And, what would you know, as the gears changed and they reached ‘Uit die blou’, Morkel castled Mitchell Marsh at that precise point.
Timing... it’s everything.