South Africa vs England Test series: Temba Bavuma leaves visitors frustrated

Cape Town It is going to be bore-draw, as England go into the last day only 18 runs ahead with all their second-innings wickets left. But it was a momentous day for South African society, engulfed as it is in a social media storm, because the country's first non-white captain, Hashim Amla, made a double hundred and their first indigenous African Test batsman, Temba Bavuma, scored his maiden century.

Last weekend a former estate agent called Penny Stewart tweeted that black South Africans should not be allowed on beaches. Blacks were banned from beaches during apartheid. Stewart's call was supported by a Standard Bank economist called Chris Hart, who tweeted a reference to "monkeys". Hart has been suspended.

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By Tuesday morning this story was front-page news and the hashtag #RacismMustFall was trending. The Cape Times editorial said: "We live in a country forged on the anvil of hatred but redeemed in the soothing balm of forgiveness. That was almost 22 years ago and the balm is fast running out, while the fires beneath the cauldron are daily being stoked by unmitigated intolerance and downright bigotry." What Amla and Bavuma achieved was therefore more than a drop in the stormy ocean of South Africa's race relations in an economic crisis.

The editorial added: "Many black people are losing whatever patience they might have drawn on for a better life." Amla came first. He walked in on Sunday afternoon when South Africa were seven for one wicket, and 1-0 down in the series after Durban. He himself had not scored a Test 50 for a year, and been under increasing pressure in India and Durban. Not until yesterday afternoon, after 707 minutes at the crease, was Amla dismissed for 201.

Local hero: Temba Bavuma of South Africa.
Local hero: Temba Bavuma of South Africa. Photo: Getty Images

Can the social impact of such an innings be quantified? For certain at the lunch interval, when Amla was 200 not out, white South African boys were buying and wearing fake Amla-like beards.

It was not the first double century that Amla had made as Test captain, but the first had been against West Indies "only", and his captaincy was being questioned on every side. The only parallel is with Len Hutton, England's first professional captain, when a large sector of society wanted him to fail.


The pitch was still true when Bavuma went in, and with enough bounce for strokeplay. But South Africa quickly lost three wickets against the third new ball: Amla was bowled off the inside edge, Faf du Plessis was caught at gully when James Anderson went round the wicket, and Quinton de Kock hooked to square leg when South Africa were still 180 behind. Had Bavuma and the tail been wiped out, England could have set the home side a tricky final afternoon to survive.

As soon as he had settled, Bavuma was sledged by the England players, notably after he had inside-edged Ben Stokes for four. The point is that England have always greeted young opponents the same way: do not bother sledging if they are not any good, but start giving them heaps if they look as though they are going to make it, to see if they can take it. When England sledge - and the umpires combined to talk to Alastair Cook while Stokes was bowling - it is a compliment of sorts.

The response of Bavuma, brought up in a township, was not to be cowed but to hit his diminutive straps. He had already played a high-class cover drive against Stokes. Now he peeled off three consecutive fours against Steve Finn to give a flavour of his repertoire: front-foot drive, back-foot force and pull. He swept Moeen Ali twice, then reverse-swept him. When Bavuma reached 50, a section of the press box clapped - the first time in 40 years this correspondent has heard a 50 applauded there. Even so, there must still have been doubters, muttering that Bavuma was only in the side because he was an indigenous African, not selected on merit but as one of the four non-whites that are the target, if not quota.

On his Test debut against West Indies a year ago Bavuma had looked vulnerable against the short ball, but here he was soon hooking bouncers safely. He had made a 50 in Bangladesh, but otherwise done not much else beyond exhibit determination and patience. This, however, was his home town.

Bavuma was born and brought up in Langa, the township near Cape Town airport, populated by Xhosas of whom he is one. His uncles played the game a lot, but the Langa club have been dropping down the leagues. When he was 17, his father, a journalist with the Cape Argus, moved to Johannesburg - and his son won a cricket scholarship to a private Catholic school, then a contract with Gauteng.

When he had reached 77, Bavuma had the luck that is essential: the diving Jonny Bairstow could not hold on with his right hand. Chris Morris kept him lively company - relieving Bavuma of the necessity to score when he was bogged down in the 80s - until England held on to a catch at last. In all they dropped eight chances - the five on day four were harder than the three on day three - and missed two others on which they did not lay a hand.

Bavuma, on 96, faced Finn. It was a thick edge rather than a good shot, but the ball sped down towards the third-man boundary. It was squealed on by the African kids who had been bussed in — some from Langa, looking to Bavuma as a role model — and beat Moeen to the rope.

Everyone stood to applaud: the whole South African squad on their balcony; the England supporters who, being English, appreciated an underdog; and thousands of South Africans, after a member of their black majority had been allowed to perform on a level playing field. The press box erupted in shouts and claps, and a shriek of delight by an African woman. As CLR James wrote, when Afro-Caribbeans were first allowed to make their mark on West Indian cricket: "It was the voice of the oppressed man that spoke."

When Amla declared shortly afterwards, taking England by surprise, most of their players ran across the ground to shake Bavuma's hand, Stokes the first of them. Yes, even the Tuscan ranks could scarce forbear to cheer.

The Telegraph, London