South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 4th day January 5, 2016

Africa applauds a son of transformation

In becoming the first black South African to score a Test century, Temba Bavuma has provided his generation with a long-awaited role model

In the stands, they stood up to applaud. In the president's suite, they stood up to applaud. On the field, they were standing up already but they applauded. Black, white, young, old, fan, friend, even foe, they all applauded. All of cricket applauded.

Temba Bavuma is the first black African batsman to play for this country, 17 years after Makhaya Ntini became the first black African cricketer to do likewise. Since then only Mfuneko Ngam, Monde Zondeki, Lonwabo Tsotsobe (all bowlers) and Thami Tsolekile (wicket-keeper) have worn the whites. After that, Kagiso Rabada, also a bowler, was capped. None of this would be significant were it not for South Africa's segregated past.

Racial discrimination was the norm from the moment the country was colonised in 1652 until democracy arrived in 1994 and its effects are still being felt. To understand them fully requires more than a cricket story on a day of celebration. However, let's simplify by saying that 21 years have not been enough to erase the exclusionary policies of the past. They were simply too divisive.

Just think of it like this. Claremont, the suburb in which the Newlands stadium is situated, was designated as a whites-only area. The best resources were reserved for them. Ten kilometres away is Langa, where black Africans lived. They were confined to the fringes of privilege and denied even a peep at prestige. This was where Temba Bavuma was born in 1990, the year in which Nelson Mandela was released from prison and change began to arrive. Bavuma and his peers, however, remained products of an unfair system, albeit one which was soon theirs to start putting right.

Bavuma would likely have had that impressed on him at a young age. His father, Vuyo, was a journalist*. Shortly after that, Bavuma was attending junior school at the South African College Schools (SACS), one of oldest institutions in the country and the alma mater of Peter Kirsten. He then moved to Johannesburg, where he went to St Davids, another prestigious institute.

Temba Bavuma reaches his century © AFP

All this already makes Bavuma different to the majority of young South Africans for whom places like SACS and St Davids remain inaccessible. But it is at these schools where the seed of what we call transformation was planted, especially when it came to sports considered the domain of the elite.

The best rugby and cricket facilities were enjoyed by the white minority and, if black cricketers were to be given a fair chance to compete, they would need to be let in to those places. Bavuma was one of those who was. His rise followed a traditional route: he played schools cricket and age-group cricket and then realised he could turn the sport into a career. "I was about 17 or 18 when I made the SA Schools side and then I got the realisation that cricket could be more than a passion," Bavuma said.

Fitting then, that when he raised his bat at Newlands the only thing he would have seen, heard and felt was passion. There was Ntini on the commentators balcony passing on a baton; there was an elderly white couple in the stands, who would have known the South Africa before Bavuma was born; there was his father in the president's suite, a place he would not have been allowed near in the bad old days, and there were the KFC kids on the boundary rope from the same township Bavuma was brought up in. All of them were smiling, most of them were crying too. What Bavuma achieved was big. Very, very big. Bigger than Bavuma may have thought was possible when he walked out to bat in the second session.

South Africa were wobbling a bit because their captain had just been dismissed. Three balls later, Faf du Plessis was gone and three overs after that Quinton de Kock was too. Suddenly, from finding himself with the senior core, Bavuma had been left with the tail. All he had managed by then was one crisp drive and he may have feared there was not enough time left to do more.

He seemed in a hurry when he flicked Ben Stokes to fine leg for his second boundary and in an even bigger hurry when he drove loosely and ended up with a Chinese cut. Stokes was not impressed and told him, in an exchange picked up by the stump mic, exactly what he thought of his abilities. The next ball Bavuma faced from Stokes, he dispatched over midwicket. No words needed.

The truth was that Stokes was not the only one who thought that. When Bavuma was first selected, with a first-class average under 40, there were many doubters. He was labelled a quota player. He forced a small rethink when he accepted the challenge of opening in India after Stiaan van Zyl was given a break and gave a solid account of himself as a cricketer with maturity, poise and good temperament.

But after he failed in Durban, and especially after the way he was out in the second innings when he danced down the wicket and was stumped, he was back to being considered an unfair beneficiary of Cricket South Africa's commitment to change.

Bavuma's cover-driving was especially assured © Getty Images

In this match, he could well have been left out. With Kagiso Rabada in the XI because of the injury to Dale Steyn, the black African quota was filled and, with JP Duminy in the squad too, their number of players of colour was also fine. However, the selectors wanted to give Bavuma a fair chance. Thank goodness they did. Yes, in some ways Bavuma is a transformation selection but that is the point of the policy: to find black African players who are good enough and to give them opportunities.

It means they may be under pressure to take those opportunities more than others but it also means the ones that come through will have survived a stern examination of character. For Bavuma, a lot of that came in his duel with Stokes, who was vocally backed up by an England team with the scent of the ascendancy back in their nostrils. "I couldn't hear everything he was saying but the more he kept speaking, the more it fired me to knuckle down," he said. And that is exactly what he did.

Bavuma was strong on the drive and the pull. He scored all around the ground and he scored quickly. He played for the team and he played for millions of South Africans who were willing him on to make history. "When I walk on the field, it's not just me walking on the field," he said. "I understand the significance. It's about being a role model and an inspiration to kids, especially black African kids."

When he was on 77, he almost gave it away. Stuart Broad tested him with a spell of legcutters but Jonny Bairstow could not hold on to the one edge that carried. "It felt like I was on nought again. Stuart Broad was bowling well and I thought to myself if I don't get a milestone, maybe it just wasn't meant to be," Bavuma said. It was. It just took him another 46 balls.

Bavuma handled that period conservatively and then, on 96 and with only one slip in his place, he got a thick edge down to third man. And the rest ...

"There was a lot of emotion," he said.

His first gesture was to the dressing room. Then to the president's suite. Then to everyone. Rabada hung back and let Bavuma soak it in. Then he joined him. The entire England team, Stokes included, applauded. Later, Stokes was the first to say well batted as Bavuma walked off.

There are plenty of theories about why there have been so many more black African bowlers than batsman, ranging from the different equipment requirements to the brazen fact that young black bowlers had a role model in Ntini but no-one similar in batsman form. If the latter is true, now they have Bavuma. And for that, South Africa applauds.

* This article was updated to remove inaccurate suggestions about Vuyo Bavuma's political affiliations at 15:15 GMT on January 9, 2016

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • greig on January 9, 2016, 10:29 GMT

    @ZVAKANAKA Well said and true words spoken there. I think many of us are guilty of misconceptions due to our past. Ntini used to run to and from the ground for the Test matches, a true athlete who had buck-loads of stamina. People must remember Bavuma is only 25, very young, secondly domestic stats dont necessary tell you how successful a player will be on the international stage. Some people have the ability to elevate themselves on the international stage beyond their labelled talents, while others with this so called talent fail (Parnell).

  • Howard on January 9, 2016, 1:22 GMT

    Give Bavuma a fair chance and don't label him. Saffers rightly worship the great Jacques Kallis but after his first 22 test matches, he averaged around 30 with a strike rate much the same. Very ordinary numbers. Kallis owed a huge debt to Bob Woolmer who believed in him and looked after him until he came good. When Makaya Ntini was first picked he was described by many as a quota player who wouldn't last. He bowled too wide of the crease, had no variation, didn't use the seam, didn't swing it, just banged it in back of a length. Steve Elworthy was better, Nantie Hayward was quicker - they should be picked ahead of Ntini who was unfairly keeping them out. But Ntini played 101 tests, took 390 wickets at an average of 28 & strike rate of 53. Similar numbers to, say, Jimmy Anderson after 100 tests and better numbers than, say, Morne Morkel. Today SA would love to have a bowler like Ntini who could bowl long spells without breaking down and take wickets with new & old ball.

  • Vic on January 8, 2016, 9:13 GMT

    I must admit, I wasn't convinced by Bavuma, but to his credit, he came good. Well done. We must also keep our feet on the ground here, and understand that once opposition get a good look at a batsman, through tv footage etc they will have plans for him and work on the weaknesses they find. It's always the 2nd time round that is harder. But good luck to him. I still don't understand by Van Zyl is there...

  • Prinesh on January 7, 2016, 13:54 GMT

    Wow. I'm speechless at some of the comments. Some people can just never be happy. Finding fault in his ton is incredibly cynical, while suggesting that others could do a better job is highly speculative. Whatever the political motivations were, what more would you have him do? He scored an unbeaten ton (yes, tired bowling attack, decent batting conditions etc), but have you so easily forgotten his innings at the top of the order in Delhi? Van Zyl is riding one HELLUVA gravy train at the moment, and faf is still there despite JP being dropped (clearly, a "quota" undertone to that decision). Your glass walls are thin and fragile, oh privileged few.

  • Ashutosh on January 7, 2016, 9:10 GMT

    nice article.. for next match open with elgar n QDK n give russow debut.. and if steyn is fit then rest morkel and give vijon a chance..SA shld now start to build their bowling back up..

  • Ramesh on January 7, 2016, 8:20 GMT

    What baffles me still is why is Wan ZYL playing still instead of Rossow. Rossow is a very good top order batsmen PERIOD.

  • Derek on January 7, 2016, 7:46 GMT

    HORSEH unfortunately in "Test" cricket at one point or the other ther will be a tired bowling attack. That is a result of the opposition not of their choosing. Point tajen on the losely used term of role model..just take it for granted that not everyone is blessed with a expansive a vocabulary as yours or the time to go to press. I do take issue with you labeling this a 'meaningless Test match' to you it might be but to decidion makers it will provide useful information for the future. If one should take you literally you are implying that Stokes feat was of no significance (were the bowlers tired then?). Was Amla's patience and determination to go out with a return of confidence in his batting meaningless. Granted you have given your opinions. It would be hetter if your contributions were qualified as such.

  • Hugh on January 7, 2016, 7:29 GMT

    Whilst I agree with the general sentiment, how can we celebrate selection based on colour rather than merit. The message that has been sent is clear. If you have a certain skin colour, you can have an average 20% lower than other players and still be selected. Bavuma batted very well and one can't argue against his century. What of the white players who have better first class batting averages but are now deemed "not good enough". Expect an exodus of talent away from this country. The day will come when South African's, who are not transformational, will play against South Africa and help another country beat South Africa. KP is the first such example but the situation will get worse. Transformational selections are prejudiced and fraught with problems. I am happy for Bavuma but saddened that we need to make compromises in selection policies. A child who has been to SACS and St Davids is not disadvantaged in anyway. In fact if you are black and attend these schools, you are advantaged.

  • Pujan on January 7, 2016, 6:07 GMT

    Another great article Firdose! Thank you!

    Though - how is Temba the first black African batsman to play for his country? What about Kenyan / Namibian / Zimbabwaen batsman? Or is this only amongst Test playing nations?

    Would appreciate some clarity. Thanks!

  • dj on January 7, 2016, 5:16 GMT

    Many South Africans hate quotas and transformation and this century by Bavuma is why it should still be enforced. It might take another 20+ years before the apartheid mindset will change. The century is a milestone but the manner in which Bavuma batted is high class and we would not have seen it. I want Bavuma to score more centuries as he, as well as other quota players like a Behardien, Rabada, Kleinveldt, will still be set apart because of their skin colour unless they stand out against the rest. The quotas are tagged precisely that because as a nation, we are still divided and slow to change and to welcome and accept the abilities of the unknown black players. The critics still say its a fluke, England was tired, etc etc. I think they didn't actually watch him bat, they did not see his composure, they do not want to see him succeed. I want all our guys to do great even though I also doubt some of their inclusions in the team. Great Stuff Bavuma, continue in form and pave the way.