Temba Bavuma unafraid of Australia’s quicks
The joke is that South Africans feel more at home in Perth than some Australians. With an estimated 30,000 of their countrymen permanently settled in the city, and its distance from the rest of Australia’s cities, you can understand why. South African batsmen Stephen Cook and Temba Bavuma also have reason to feel like they belong at the WACA, but it’s got more to do with where they come from.
They play their cricket at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, which Cook said was “probably the one ground in the world that’s similar to Perth in terms of pace and bounce.” While the WACA has lost some of its bite and the Wanderers has been known to produce run-fests, especially in limited-overs cricket, the surfaces remain spicy enough to keep bowlers interested.
Batsmen need familiarity to be properly equipped on such pitches and Cook, whose domestic career is more than a decade and a half old, said he had more than enough. “I think it will stand me in good stead and I will try to take a few of the lessons I’ve learnt in my career and translate them into playing here,” Cook said.
Bavuma only has half of Cook’s experience but more than three times his number of Tests caps and is just as eager to show what he can do on a seamer-friendly strip. “Judging by the nets, it’s quite similar to the Wanderers. Here the bounce is a bit exaggerated. That’s a challenge I am looking forward to,” he said.
But both will need major improvements on what they have showed on tour so far if they are to match their talk with action. The pair are the only two in the top seven who have not scored at least a half-century in South Africa’s two warm-up matches.
Cook managed just 5 and 12 in the first one, a day-night practice match, and got a duck in the second. Bavuma fared slightly better with scores of 11, 21 and 43. On South Africa A’s winter tour to Australia earlier this year, Cook scored only 58 runs in four innings – two of them were ducks – while Bavuma scored 51 in that series, with a top score of 21.
Those numbers are not reassuring, but Cook insisted they were not a cause for concern. “I haven’t scored that many runs since I’ve been here but I’m not too perturbed by that. Things were pretty good in a couple of domestic games back home and I’ve felt like I’ve been in decent touch,” he said, referring to an unbeaten 97 in the first-class season opener between the Lions and Cobras at the Wanderers.
Stephen Cook was confident that failures in the warm-up games will not affect his Test performances © Getty Images
“We all hit the ground running when it gets to the real stuff. Sometimes a lot gets read into practice games and situations like that but I’ve played this game for long enough to know that there’s no direct correlation between the two.”
Bavuma also has recent form to fall back on. On his ODI debut against Ireland, batting as an opener, he scored a century and showed an ability to shift gears, which he knows could be called on in the Tests.
“Where I bat in the middle order you generally have to be able to play the situation,” Bavuma said. “There will be moments in the series where you have to take the attack to the opposition. It’s about me being able to recognise those moments and adjust.”
Bavuma has already showed an ability to adapt to pressure. He is the first black African batsman to play Test cricket for South Africa and as such, carries the hopes of a nation. He accepts that. If that was not enough, at 1.67 metres (5’5″) he has since been asked if he also considers himself an ambassador for the vertically challenged as well. He isn’t entirely sure of the answer but he knows that he could be seen as a novelty and that means expectation on him will grow with each game.
“It’s a pressure I am trying to embrace and take in my stride. I want to improve and better myself all the time,” Bavuma said.
At 33, so does Cook. Schooled alongside former South African captain Graeme Smith, Cook has waited almost half his life to play for South Africa and with time not on his side, he wants to make the most of every match.
“My first Test was a dream, but as cricketers we’re never satisfied. You get a taste for something and you want more. This is an iconic series. It’s been a series in which a lot of players’ and a lot of teams’ careers have been defined. Therein lies another wonderful opportunity for us as a team. It’s for me as an individual to make my stamp and put my mark on it.”
Cook watched as JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis prospered on previous Australian tours and saw two people “of similar age and and who I grew up playing cricket against, go from guys who were maybe not that well known, to guys who put in big performances under pressure.”
Neither Cook, nor Bavuma are well-known yet. But they have put in performances under pressure at the Wanderers. Now they have to do it at the WACA.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo