Bavuma, the mouse who needs to roar

Temba Bavuma's troubles continued with a second-ball duck Gallo Images

Never mind the elephant in the room, there is a mouse in this one. Let's call him Temba Bavuma.

South Africa's smallest player has managed to accumulate the least number of runs among the specialist batsmen and the lower-order allrounders in this series and so we have to have this discussion. Will he be the one to make way when AB de Villiers returns to fitness after elbow surgery?

First, let's look at the numbers side of it. You won't be surprised to hear they don't support Bavuma. In five innings this series, Bavuma has collected 21 runs, including four scores in single figures and two ducks. It is less than the number of runs scored by Keshav Maharaj (52), Vernon Philander (48) and even Wayne Parnell, who is playing in his first match of the rubber and made 23.

Second, let's scrutinise the technical side of things. Anyone can get a few good balls or play a few bad shots but it's those who keep making the same mistakes that international cricket tends to move on from. Bavuma has played two poor strokes - the hook shot in the first innings in Cape Town and the poke here at the Wanderers - but he has also had his fair share of bad fortune. He was given out off the inside-edge in Port Elizabeth and didn't review but, if he had, replays would have shown he did not hit the ball. He was also run out in Cape Town.

Finally, let's consider the bigger picture. South Africa's middle-order has space for three specialist batsmen after Hashim Amla and before Quinton de Kock. Captain Faf du Plessis occupies one of those spots. At the moment JP Duminy and Bavuma hold the other two. Logic suggests that, at some point in the future, de Villiers will displace one of them.

Duminy, whose age matches his batting average of 32, was always expected to be the man under pressure because of his inconsistency. He thought so himself. "I would be silly to say that I didn't think about AB coming back and where would he fit in and is my spot up for grabs," he said.

But now he has found some consistency. His 155 in this match makes him South Africa's second-highest run-scorer after Dean Elgar and it could have been the innings that saves his career. It was his second hundred in as many series - previously he had gone five series without a century - and it showed a distinct change in approach as he embraces the promotion to No.4.

"I came into this season with a lot more of a positive mindset and looking to score runs rather than try and survive. When there are a lot of nerves, you try and survive certain periods. I have gone the opposite way now and try to be expansive in my body language and my approach and it's worked really well for me," Duminy said.

The same has not worked for Bavuma. The more he has looked for runs, the fewer he has found and so, on form alone, he should be the player to make way for de Villiers. However, there is some sensitivity surrounding Bavuma's place and we cannot complete this analysis without touching on it.

Bavuma is South Africa's first black African batsman and one of only two black African players in the Test XI. South Africa's transformation targets dictate that, over the course of a season, the national side must field a minimum average of six players of colour including at least two black Africans in their XI. That this is only calculated on average means that they do not need to have this composition every time they take the field but, if they fall short on occasion, they need to make it up in other matches.

If Bavuma is left out, that may be possible because South Africa play more limited-overs matches than they do Tests, but his omission would still be glaring. There are no other black African players contending for a Test spot at the moment although Andile Phehlukwayo, Khaya Zondo and Lungi Ngidi may change that in the near future. Dropping Bavuma requires more careful thought than it may seem.

This is not suggesting Bavuma has only been picked because he meets the target, because he has an excellent and deserving first-class record. The season before he made his Test debut, 2012-13, was a particularly lean one for batsman on the domestic scene, but Bavuma was fifth on the first-class run charts with 537 runs at 31.58. The following summer, he played in only seven of the 10 matches and averaged 69.37, an effort that included two hundreds and four fifties.

Bavuma's capability to step up to Test level was evident in Australia, where he scored fifties under pressure and starred in a match-winning partnership with Quinton de Kock in Hobart. He definitely has a future at the highest level but he is struggling right now and right now(ish) is when South Africa have to start thinking about de Villiers' comeback.

De Villiers, along with Morne Morkel (who is recovering from a back injury), is set to play for provincial side Northerns in a List A match on January 22. If all goes well, the pair will be included in South Africa's squad for the third T20 against Sri Lanka on January 25, then the five-match ODI series that follows, then the limited-overs' matches in New Zealand and then the three Tests there. All of which means that, unless South Africa bat again at the Wanderers, Bavuma may have already had his last chance, for now, even though no-one is going to say so just yet.

From inside the dressing room, Bavuma has the same support any other player going through a lean patch would enjoy. Duminy's advice to him was to shut out the noise and trust in his own ability. "Keep it simple. Know that your team-mates back you. A big score is around the corner. It's just a matter of time before things turn around. Everybody goes through dips. We back him, he is a great player and he has shown that many times and we support him," Duminy said.

From outside, there will be a few more questions but there are no easy answers. Perhaps a mouse in the room is more tricky to deal with than an elephant.