Proteas star Temba Bavuma says he doesn’t want his maiden Test century to define him, in the first of a two-part exclusive interview with SACricketmag.com.
It’s easy to forget that Temba Bavuma has only played nine Tests. To say that he’s a mainstay in the Proteas middle order would be jumping the gun. There’s a lot of work that he still has to do to establish himself in the team, and he knows himself that there’s no guarantee of his place in the side at this stage.
That might explain why, on an individual level, he wants to remove himself as much as he can from that moment at Newlands – the moment he became the first black player to score a Test century for the Proteas.
This also explains why he used the off-season to reflect on what that actually meant on a larger level. When he passed the milestone against England in January, the 26-year-old from Langa brought the whole country to their feet, as they all witnessed a player with a real hunger to succeed, and indeed someone who will, and surely already has, inspired a generation of young aspiring cricketers.
‘Being away from cricket for a couple of months helped me get over it all,’ Bavuma tells SACricketmag.com. ‘Before it was just another innings; another day of cricket. But in the months that followed I came to realise the effects of that milestone and how it reached through the whole country.
‘All the news and attention after was quite overwhelming. I have had time to evaluate everything now, but it’s quite a big thing to wrap my mind around. I’m trying to forget about it and just take it day by day. I haven’t even watched highlights of the innings so I can try move on as quickly as I can.’
The irony is that he wasn’t even certain of his place in the side going into that match. Zero and 10 in the first match in Durban left him waiting ominously for the team announcement going into the new year.
‘The whole team had performed below-par in the first Test, so the batting unit as a whole was under pressure. I felt personally that my career was on the line. I went into the team talk the day before the game thinking there was no way I was going to play. When I was announced ahead of JP Duminy, I felt the pressure.
‘That same day my parents came back from holiday so I went home to Langa to go and see them. I couldn’t really speak to them because I kept replaying in my head what was going to happen the next day. Luckily my younger brother and sister were there and they helped me calm down.
‘Then, on the day, we bowled first and they smashed us around a bit. We started batting and Amla, AB and Faf put on some good partnerships. While I was sitting in the pavilion I just kept telling myself “whatever happens, happens, I’ll just go out there and do my best. If it’s not written in the books then it’s not.”
‘Then the opportunity came and I tried to be as calm as I could. “Watch the ball and take it ball-by-ball”. It got a bit easier as the innings unfolded. There was a moment in the game that spurred me on (England all-rounder Ben Stokes told him he was sh*t). From that point on I rolled with it.
‘When I got to around the 70 mark I started to look up at the scoreboard quite a bit and started to become nervous. But it was around then that I realised I could reach my first milestone. Everything went quite quickly and then it happened. I celebrated in the way that I did because it was just a culmination of everything that had built up to that stage – the satisfaction of seeing how delighted your parents are; the fact that it was at Newlands where it all started, where the seed was actually planted.’
From discovering Mini-Cricket, to challenging the stereotypes of having to be a certain size to be successful … From modest playing days at school level with St Davids, to playing for the Lions under the sturdy guidance of Geoffrey Toyana … Now we’re here, but this is still very much only the beginning. He wants to keep improving, he wants to nail down that spot in the middle order.
He displayed gritty determination when the chips were down against India and Bangladesh, and made full use of the opportunities presented to him against England. So far, he’s done everything that’s been asked of him, and you can’t expect much more from a player just starting out at the highest level.