JOHANNESBURG – Once more Temba Bavuma is eyeing the No 4 spot in the Proteas Test side hoping now to make that position his for the foreseeable future.
Bavuma has been wanting that spot for years. AB de Villiers and then JP Duminy occupied it when Bavuma first made it into the Test side and when De Villiers went on sabbatical and Duminy was dropped, the selectors asked Quinton de Kock to bat there in England last year.
It was an experiment that lasted two Tests. Bavuma got a chance in the Manchester Test, the last of the series on a difficult pitch against some high-class seam bowling, and equipped himself well, making 46, the top score in another below-par batting display by the Proteas.
He retained the position, scoring 71 in the first Test against Bangladesh, before De Villiers returned to reclaim it against India and Australia last season.
With De Villiers now retired, Bavuma wants to be given a lengthier period in which to establish himself at No 4, knowing that the responsibility is much bigger than it is when batting at No 6, but accepting that it will help to push his game to a higher level.
“I quite enjoyed it when I got the chance to bat (at No 4) in England, although it was a tough Test and a tough series,” Bavuma said yesterday.
“The responsibility in a way I think it’s something that will help my game. I haven’t been able to convert my starts and coming in at four, the opportunity is there to score big runs; you have to (in that position) and with what I’m trying to achieve it will work hand in hand.”
Bavuma has more experience at No 4 than the other frontline batsman in the squad for next month’s tour to Sri Lanka, Theunis de Bruyn. It would seem logical that De Bruyn, who batted at No 6 in the first two Tests against Australia, settle into the side in that position over the coming months.
Unlike many other teammates, who’ve spent time playing in the Indian Premier League or secured County gigs in England, Bavuma has had time off since the conclusion of the series with Australia, which he ended by scoring an unbeaten 95 at the Wanderers.
“With the time off I’ve taken the opportunity to clear my mind, assess what happened during last season, assess the goals that I achieved and then make new goals for next season. I’m quite fresh at the moment.”
Bavuma was among a group featuring about half of the Proteas, who’ve had a two-day camp at Cricket SA’s High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria. He has typically hit a lot of balls, but there’s a sense that this coming season he wants to ally his solid technique with more aggression.
That attacking mindset is one area that he wants to focus on in Sri Lanka, a country he’s not toured but where conditions aren’t foreign given he’s played in Bangladesh and India.
“Spin is key, and being able to rotate (the strike) is vital, as is hitting boundaries, just familiarising your way against spin, the ball going back into you and having a gameplan against that. You could say there might still be gremlins in our heads from India (in 2015 when SA lost a series 3-0), but we got the opportunity to face the extreme conditions for spin and I’m hoping it’s not like that in Sri Lanka.”
While he’s been a peripheral figure as far as the One-Day team is concerned - he’s played just twice in coloured clothing for the Proteas - Bavuma remains hopeful of proving his credentials over the course of the new season and pushing for a spot in the World Cup squad.
“If I look at where the team sees me fulfilling a role, it’s probably as a back-up opener or someone in the top three; it is tough because that top three is solidified at the moment. It is something that is at the back of my mind.”