'We don't see colour,' says Faf du Plessis
CAPE TOWN – South African sport is a unique beast. The Proteas win a Test match after losing five straight matches and the debutant that helped achieve the result is posed with a question that starts with “As a white player…”
For many within the large English media contingent it is a baffling exorcise. But for the locals it as normal as buying a loaf of bread or litre milk on the way home from work.
It is a greater surprise that a fit-again Temba Bavuma has been left out of the starting XI for today’s second Test against England at Newlands with Rassie van der Dussen being assured of a lengthy run in the Proteas Test middle-order.
On merit Van der Dussen deserves his opportunity. He has been a consistent domestic performer for the Highveld Lions, topping the national averages two seasons ago and became the first Proteas to register a half-century on debut in each format last week at SuperSport Park.
Equally, Bavuma has been out-of-sorts for a lengthy period of time in Test cricket with his sole Test century still being the historic moment against the English here at this very ground four years ago. His recent form has been equally concerning with no Test half-centuries in his last 12 innings and only one in 2019.
However, the decision to leave out Bavuma will still raise the eye-brows of an already concerned cricket fraternity who believe that transformation will take a backward step under the new Proteas leadership of Jacques Faul (acting chief executive), Graeme Smith (acting director of cricket) and Mark Boucher (coach).
"We don't see colour and I think it is important that people understand that opportunity is very important, opportunity for everyone," Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said at the pre-match media engagement.
"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.
"We feel it’s 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"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."
Bavuma, along with a host of other fringe players, will be released to play franchise cricket in a bid to restore his red-ball confidence. Equally, Du Plessis pointed that the Test vice-captain remains an integral part of the national squad’s plans going forward and that the 29-year-old understands his situation.
"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."
England, meanwhile, have much less moral issues but major problems nonetheless. Opening batsman Rory Burns twisted his ankle late on Thursday afternoon playing football during the pre-training warm-ups. Fast bowler Mark Wood and left-arm spinner Jack Leach are both unavailable for selection, while Jofra Archer is also struggling with an elbow injury.
It seems at this stage the Proteas certainly are the more settled unit with a greater debate on who to leave out rather include. Now is the time they need to take advantage of it.
Likely teams for Newlands
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis (captain), Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (wk), Dwaine Pretorius, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje.
England: Rory Burns/Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Dom Best, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
Start time: 10:30pm
TV: SS2, Sabc 3