Temba Bavuma is not among the 12 South Africa players who have assembled in Port Elizabeth to prepare for the third Test against England, but he remains close to the conversation. So close, that assistant coach Enoch Nkwe has indicated that if Bavuma finds form, he could be candidate for the national captaincy in future.
That may seem like a long way away for a player with 39 Tests to his name and only one century, scored more than four years ago, who averaged 19.84 in 2019 and has scored 9 and 17 in his last two domestic first-class innings but Bavuma is no ordinary player. He is South Africa's only only black African Test batsman and has accepted the pressures of being a flagbearer and leader for millions.
Bavuma has chosen not to engage in the debate at the moment, posting on social media that his silence is "full of answers". Instead it was Nkwe, himself a black African batsman, who spoke extensively on the expectations and challenges Bavuma faces and the reasons why the South African administration believes he will be back in a big way.
Are you comfortable with where South Africa is in terms of transformation targets and how things are progressing?
"There's been a different approach, but that will come over time. We're keeping very close with Temba Bavuma, for example. I strongly believe he's a good player, and he's in the process of making sure that -- from a mental, emotional and skills point of view -- when he gets an opportunity to come back, whether it's in the next Test match or in a different format, he takes ownership of his position and does 10 times more than what he has done. We're confident and believe in him. [Mark] Boucher is the same, and the rest of the team. All I'm going to ask is that we are more patient. We're trying to put a few things in place so that we can shape things in the right direction."
Do you think the weight expectation on Temba, being the first black African Test batsman in South Africa, has been detrimental to him?
"Knowing Temba, no. There is always going to be pressure in this environment but if you look at it, he has been unlucky. Let's be honest. There's been times where he got 95 not out and he was probably one big hit to get over the line and he was unfortunate. There's been times where he got 70, 80. But also sometimes people tend to forget that the situations he has come in for South Africa have been challenging and he has been able to take the team from that position and put them in a much healthier position. Sometimes he gets out for 60, sometimes he gets out for 50 and if you look at the batting positions over the last couple of years - Nos. 4, 5 and 6 - he has been able to make those massive contributions. They might look small in terms of numbers but his contribution has been very powerful for the team and put them in a winning position. He has had good partnerships with Quinny [Quinton de Kock] and obviously Quinny has been more explosive. If maybe a bit of luck had gone his way, he would have got two or three more hundreds but those things we've put behind us.
"I know that having spoken to him recently, he is someone that actually looks forward to getting an opportunity. He is going to do everything in his power to make sure that when the next opportunity comes he is ready for it. He wants to be in this environment and hopefully in the future he performs well enough and he can lead the team because I know having worked with him, he is a strong leader, very smart and he is able to lead a massive group to greater heights."
Do you see him as a future captain?
"In my mind, yes. I can see that happening. But he does understand that he needs to put in some performances. The future could be in a year's time, it could be in two years' time, we don't know. Having worked with him in the last year-and-a-half, he has got the qualities, there's no question around that. I wouldn't be surprised if, after Faf, he takes over. That will be great for South African cricket."
Was it the right decision to send Temba back to franchise cricket?
"From a coach's hat and a high-performance point of view, it's not healthy just to sit around and not play. If you are not playing, you really need to go and find some game time and fortunately, we have some franchise cricket taking place at the moment and we saw that opportunity for him to go there and stay in the game. Some of the challenges we have when we go on tours, is we have a 15-man squad and only 11 can play and the challenge of those individuals to try and get some game time is massive. It's not only him; it's a couple of other guys we have released as well."