Temba Bavuma – India’s bowling attack ‘nullifies the advantage’ we have

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With the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Jasprit Bumrah, Gerald Coetzee, Mohammed Siraj, Marco Jansen, Lungi Ngidi and Shardul Thakur – especially after his last series here – in the mix, you would expect the series between South Africa and India to be headlined by bowlers. But South Africa’s captain Temba Bavuma has a different idea.

“We understand conditions a lot better so you’d expect us to adapt a lot better but their bowling is quite strong,” he said in Centurion, where the first Test starts on Boxing Day. “The fact that they’ve been able to achieve such success is because of their bowling attack and that kind of nullifies the advantage we have. It’s more between the batters and how the batters take on that challenge.”

And it could make one of the most interesting storylines of the series, even if it does not seem so at first glance.

Four of India’s likely top six of Rohit Sharma, Yashavi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer average over 40. Not one of South Africa’s batters in the squad has numbers that high. At the outset, India appear to have a clear advantage. But dig a little deeper and you will find that of the players with those impressive numbers, only Virat Kohli maintains it in South Africa. He averages 51.35 here while Rohit, whose overall average is 46.54, only averages 15.37 in four Tests in South Africa. Jaiswal is new on the scene even though he scored big runs in the West Indies, and Shreyas Iyer has not yet played a Test in South Africa. There’s an argument to be made that since Rohit’s last trip to South Africa in 2018 – he missed the 2021-22 series with a hamstring injury – and his move up the order the following year, he is a much-improved Test batter and we will see that this time, there are still statistics that skew the batting South Africa’s way.
Two of South Africa’s top six – Dean Elgar (46.16) and Aiden Markram (43.92) – average over 40 at home, and another, Bavuma, is only a shave under at 39.11. David Bedingham, who could be in line to debut, has a first-class batting average of 49.51 and in South Africa, averages 47.28 in red-ball cricket. Consistency has long been a recent issue for South Africa’s batting – and it is worth remembering that it was just a year ago that they were dismissed for under 200 in seven successive Test innings – so this is the series to demonstrate if any real progress has been made since the Australia series last summer. South Africa only played West Indies after that and won fairly easily, so this is their first big challenge since Bavuma took over the captaincy and Shukri Conrad was named coach.

“For me as a batter, the bowlers are going to put you under pressure and their batting line-up as well, they [India] have got renowned Test players and guys who performed in all conditions”

Temba Bavuma

Both have spoken about the significance of maintaining South Africa’s unbeaten home record against India, and Bavuma expanded on that by referencing the unique pressures that come with playing India.

“There’s a lot of pride attached to that – that we’ve been able to keep that record intact as a South African team… all of us as players also feel that,” he said. “But we understand playing against India comes with certain challenges and it’s those types of challenges we would like to focus on. Playing against India comes with a lot more eyes and a lot more scrutiny in terms of everything we do. So it’s accepting that. And the other, more obvious one, is the skill factor on the field. For me as a batter, the bowlers are going to put you under pressure and their batting line-up as well, they’ve got renowned Test players and guys who performed in all conditions. They are a determined team as well, who want to be able to say they’ve won a Test series here in South Africa so with that extra bit of drive and motivation, we’ll really need to be at our best.”

And for Bavuma himself, the last part of that sentence rings particularly true after a tough World Cup, where his form was under the microscope. He has not had any game time since South Africa’s semi-final loss to Australia more than a month ago so it’s difficult to say what kind of touch he is in. He was due to play in a first-class match from December 14 to 17 but withdrew to attend a funeral, which means he has not played any long-format cricket since March.

In the time since, he has become a father, led South Africa at a World Cup, and will now take up his position as skipper and middle-order batter against India. Is he ready? “Mentally I am as fresh as ever,” he said. “I didn’t get any red-ball cricket. Things happened with a bereavement at home. But I’ve enjoyed the time being at home, with the wife and the little one but I missed the cricket and was watching the guys in T20Is and ODIs. We don’t usually get breaks this long, especially in-season so I’ll take the break.”

And from here on, it’s a full summer and a busy 2024, in which South Africa will play ten Tests and Bavuma will look to create history with the red-ball side.

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