I'm Temba Bavuma. I'm short. I've been short my whole life - well except for that time in primary school when we were all about the same height and then everyone else grew - so I've kind of got used to it.
I'm black. I've been black my whole life, and how different that life could have been. I was born a year before South Africa were readmitted to international cricket, at a time when society was starting to integrate. By the time I started school, I was able to attend two of the best - SACS, where Peter Kirsten used to go, and St David's. When I was 11, the school magazine asked us to write a paragraph on where we saw ourselves in 15 years' time. I wrote, "I see myself in fifteen years in my suit and shaking [then-president Thabo] Mbeki's hand congratulating me for making the South African side." I got there two years earlier than planned. I was 24 when I made my Test debut.
I was not supposed to play in that match, against West Indies in Port Elizabeth, but Quinton de Kock rolled his ankle in the first Test and they needed someone to bat at No. 7. I scored 10. In the next Test, I scored 15. I didn't know how soon it would be before I played again but I was taken on the next tour to Bangladesh, in June 2015, because AB de Villiers was on paternity leave. It rained so much that nobody even remembers that series but I do, because I scored my first fifty there. I knew it didn't matter that much though, AB was back for the next series against India so I went back to being the reserve.
I didn't do much besides be glad I wasn't playing in that series. The pitches were tough, the ball was turning and India were all over us. All our batsmen struggled so for the last Test, the selectors decided to give Stiaan van Zyl a break and asked me to open the batting. I am not an opening batsman.
I was so nervous when I walked out with Dean Elgar at the Feroz Shah Kotla but I knew I had to try. I clipped my fifth ball through midwicket and, although I struggled a bit with my footwork, I even managed to find my drive. I was doing okay, even when they brought the spinners on, even when Dean nicked off, even when Hashim Amla was dropped. After tea, I had to face Ravi Jadeja and he found even more turn than the others. I couldn't get forward and he beat my inside edge. I was bowled. I faced 55 balls in that innings and made 22.
Some people were talking about it as though it was the best I'd played until the second knock when I spent almost two-and-half hours in the middle and faced 117 balls to make 34. I admitted that was the toughest innings of my life. It went against all my natural impulses because it wasn't about scoring runs, it was about batting time and blocking things out - the ball and the banter. I didn't know that the next 18 months would be just as tough, hell, maybe even tougher.
"In these situations, I can't think of myself. I have to consider what the team needs and how I can help get them there. I can't play expansive strokes. I can't take risks"
I got to keep a place in the team for home series against England, which was extra special because it was played over the festive season. I was part of a Boxing Day Test in Durban and a New Year's Test at my home ground, Newlands. I grew up less than 10km away from the stadium, in the township of Langa. It was basically a different world. In that match it seemed as though the two worlds became one.
I scored a hundred. To date, my only hundred. My dad was in the stands when I did it. He had dreamed of this moment as much as me. The whole of Newlands was there, a Newlands crowd with people from Langa in it. They all clapped when I reached the milestone and many of them cried too. I knew I had done something special. I had given millions of people, black African people, hope. Afterwards Hashim, a man of so few words, explained the difficulties players of colour face because we continue to be doubted. Apartheid ended shortly after I was born; its legacy will take much longer to face.
I got the sense people thought I belonged after that innings. I suppose a Test hundred will do that for you. I also knew I needed the runs because there was soon to be a selection struggle in the line-up. Over the course of the England series, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis were both dropped. JP was brought back and I was sure Faf would be too.
I had a break until August when we played New Zealand at home. Just before the series, we had a culture camp and were asked to rethink our goals, as individuals and as a team. Getting our Test ranking back up was one of the most important things on our agenda. We had slipped to No. 7. When we beat New Zealand, we moved up to No. 5. Then we headed to Australia.
It was my first time there. The Australian media were very interested in my height. A few days before the Perth Test, I was up for a media day and all the questions were about how I had adapted my game because I'm short. They also asked me if I liked facing bouncers. I didn't want to say too much, especially because the first Test was in Perth. I just told them the Wanderers, where I play my domestic cricket, is a lot like the WACA.
When it was my turn to bat, we were 81 for 5. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were raising steam from the Perth pitch. I scored 51. Quinton de Kock was with me. He bats much more freely and scores quicker. He made 84. Together, we dragged the team to 242. It wasn't a great score but we trusted our attack, even after Dale Steyn went down. Australia scored 244 and then we batted them out of the game. We won and I played a small part in it.
In Hobart, we bowled Australia out for 85 in some of the scariest conditions for batsmen. The ball was swinging and seaming and when it was my turn to bat, we were 76 for 4. Hashim was with me for a bit, then Quinny was with me and we rebuilt. I scored 74. I thought I was going to get a hundred that day but after four-and-a-half hours, I holed out to point. I was disappointed but we won the match and the series.
I knew when I got home that I would have to concentrate on converting my starts and the Sri Lanka series should have been the one to do that. We were told it wouldn't be easy, because we were going to prepare green tops, but I didn't expect it to be that hard. I only got into double-figures once in five innings and my series ended with two ducks. Throughout that series, the talk was about who would be replaced by AB, who was coming back after his injury, and I suspected it would be me. At a function in late January, I told some journalists I would understand if I was dropped. But then AB decided to sit out of the New Zealand and England series and I had another chance.
It was my first time in New Zealand. Dunedin was like Hobart weather-wise. We drew. When we got to Wellington, we made it look like the WACA, or the Wanderers. When it was my turn to bat, we were 94 for 6. Quinny was with me. We put on 160 runs together but neither of us scored a hundred. We won the match.
Now, I am here, in England for the first time. There is a lot of expectation on our side. After winning three series in a row in Australia since readmission, we could win three in a row in England too. But we are underdogs. At Lord's, we concede 458 and when it is my turn to bat we are 104 for 4. Theunis de Bruyn is with me. We fight hard, I make 59 and we finish on 361. We lose the match. It's not a great feeling. But I know this team well enough to know they won't take this lying down.
We come back at Trent Bridge. We square the series. We get to The Oval. We concede 353 and when it is my turn to bat, we are 47 for 4. Quinny has been moved up to No. 4 and he has already been dismissed. Soon we are 61 for 7. Vernon Philander is in hospital and won't be back today. Will we even get to 100?
In these situations, I can't think of myself. I have to consider what the team needs and how I can help get them there. I can't play expansive strokes. I can't take risks. I have to keep my defence tight. I can't drive or pull as often as I want to. Sometimes I get a ball that just begs to be hit, like the one Ben Stokes pitched up, but mostly, I try to go with soft hands, to guide the ball into gaps. I ran one to third man, deliberately, but I can't do that too often.
I need to look after the tail, I need to stay with them. I have to refuse some runs. I can't do what I did when I was on 40 and slashed at a Stuart Broad ball and was nearly caught. We might not have avoided the follow-on if Stokes had held on. I can only reach for those when they're a bit wider like the one Jimmy Anderson bowled to me a little later. I was on 48 then and Morne Morkel got out. I almost didn't get to fifty at all. But I did and that'll do for now.
I'm Temba Bavuma and I just need a little more time in the middle.