Temba Bavuma will open the batting on his ODI debut for South Africa in Benoni on September 25 having done that job in just two of the 69 List A games he has played in his career, but that’s not likely to be the only selection weirdness we see in the Proteas’ limited-overs teams this season.
That’s because, in order to meet the new quotas that will apply as an average at the end of the season across all three formats, it seems the national selectors will follow the sensible option of ‘loading’ the limited-overs teams in order to give themselves more leeway when it comes to Tests.
The targets they have to meet at the end of the season are 54% players of colour and 18% Black African players – measured as 27 matches with 11 players a side, therefore 297 individual playing opportunities, of which 161 must go to players of colour, including 54 appearances by Black Africans.
The last time Bavuma opened the batting in a List A match was actually in February, in the Lions’ Momentum One-Day Cup match against the Knights in Mangaung, when he scored just five before being caught behind off the evergreen Dillon du Preez.
Prior to that, the only time he had opened was back in March 2010 for Gauteng against Northerns in the CSA Provincial competition at the L.C. de Villiers Oval at the University of Pretoria. He scored 18 off 20 balls before being caught behind off Tumi Masekela. His opening partner that day was Grant Mokoena, and that’s not the only thing they have in common as they both scored sparkling centuries this week in the eKasi Challenge between the Lions and Titans at the Soweto Cricket Oval. Both hundreds were of sufficient quality to disprove the nonsense that there are no talented Black African batsmen around.
I am not criticising the quotas now imposed by Cricket South Africa at national level – I can see their need, I’m delighted that we are now being honest about them and don’t know how else much-needed transformation can happen at a reasonable pace – but I would like to point out that they are a double-edged sword.
While someone like Mokoena has undoubtedly benefited from the targets imposed at franchise level last season – he played more first-class matches than he had ever before and had his highest tally of runs as well as his best 50-over campaign – the other side of the equation is how established players like Bavuma could find themselves shifted into unfamiliar roles to fill gaps.
Is it fair on a wonderful craftsman like Bavuma, who showed against New Zealand how he has become a key figure in the Test line-up, to make his ODI debut in a once-off game batting out of position? The squad for the series against Australia that follows has already been named, so even if the 26-year-old scores a double-hundred against Ireland, Hashim Amla will take his place in the next game.
And what if Bavuma gets a good ball up front and is dismissed cheaply? What if he struggles to 12 off 38 balls on a Willowmoore Park pitch that can be tricky in the first hour? Will it dent the selectors’ confidence in him?
Bavuma has shown already that he has incredible mental strength so I don’t think it will dent his confidence, and he really is batting beautifully at the moment. When he gets on top of the bowers as he did against the Titans in Soweto, he is a wonderful strokeplayer, but just as impressive is the tenacity he showed in the second innings of the second Test against New Zealand to score 40 not out.
Andile Phehlukwayo will also make his ODI debut later this month and he is a real talent for the future. Also gifted with a great temperament – as displayed in his excellent death bowling – he will also get a chance against Australia. If he does not immediately succeed in this tough first assignment at the highest level, I hope he is not tarnished with a reputation for not being up to it, seeing as though he is only 20 years old!