David Bedingham: 'The main thing for me is to play Test cricket and see if I can cope or not'

Prolific batter is on South Africa's radar but hasn't ruled out trying to qualify for selection by England

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
David Bedingham signed for Durham on an ancestral visa in 2020  •  NurPhoto via Getty Images

David Bedingham signed for Durham on an ancestral visa in 2020  •  NurPhoto via Getty Images

No batter in the world has scored as many first-class runs as David Bedingham in the last 12 months. It is a statistic that invites an obvious question: when will he make his Test debut? But in Bedingham's world, nothing is quite that straightforward.
Bedingham, a 27-year-old who bats in the middle order, is South African. He was born on the Western Cape, studied in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, played Under-19 cricket for South Africa and speaks with an unmistakable accent.
Both sets of grandparents were born in England, his father in Zimbabwe, and "basically everyone" in his family has a British passport, with the exception of him and his brother. He signed a contract with Durham in early 2020 to play as a local player via an ancestral visa and while rule changes brought in after Brexit meant that he became an overseas player last season, he is now in the third year of five to qualify for indefinite leave to remain - and a passport.
Bedingham returned to South Africa this winter to play in their domestic four-day competition for Western Province and piled on the runs. He is still the tournament's top-scorer with 509 runs in five appearances (199 of which came in an innings against Knights) but is now back in the North East of England for pre-season training with Durham, making sure he fulfills his annual quota of days in the UK in order to become a British citizen.
Victor Mpitsang, South Africa's men's convenor of selectors, said last month that he had hoped to discuss Bedingham's medium-term plans during the ongoing T20 Challenge in Port Elizabeth, but by that stage, Bedingham's WP contract had expired. He has heard speculation that he turned South Africa down but insists that is not the case.
"I hate doing interviews," Bedingham laughs, speaking to ESPNcricinfo from club accommodation in Chester-le-Street amid flat-hunting with his girlfriend, Jenna. "I'm just keen to focus on scoring runs wherever I play and hopefully through that, I can crack it at Test cricket at some stage. That's always been the plan. They [the selectors] never spoke to me directly, but I didn't expect them to.
"It's completely up to them. If they were keen to pick me, perfect, but if not… I don't expect any favours. If they want to go a different route, then that's perfect too. I was hearing lots of things in the media and from friends saying 'you turned down playing Test cricket', that type of stuff. That just wasn't true.
"Everyone was like 'he expects to play', 'he expects a call', stuff like that - I didn't. I don't want people thinking that I turned down Test cricket. The plan all along was to get a passport - not just for cricket, but for after as well. Me and my missus like staying in Newcastle and in England, so we see it as a long-term plan to live here."
Bedingham's initial decision to join Durham prompted Ashwell Prince, his Cape Cobras coach, to criticise Cricket South Africa's failure to keep hold of the best young players in domestic cricket. "It's the same reason you get every day for everyone that leaves," he said. "It's about opportunity, it's about uncertainty - same old, same old. It's high time that CSA sits down and looks at things a little bit closer… face it, confront the brutal facts."
"I really enjoy playing cricket here [in the UK] so my main thing is to play for Durham, do my days and qualify as a local"
Bedingham recalls: "At the time, I was doing quite well for the Cobras [he averaged 50.42 across two first-class seasons]. But I would also find myself not playing after three or four games, which was quite frustrating. I said to myself since I have another path to play first-class cricket in England, I may as well test the waters and see if I can play at that standard. I'm very happy I took that route."
There has also been speculation in recent weeks that Bedingham is looking to qualify for England, a process which has a higher bar than citizenship alone. The ECB's eligibility criteria also requires player to be either born in England or Wales or a minimum of three years' residence, and state that players cannot appear in domestic cricket overseas as a local player in the three years before they qualify.
As a result, Bedingham would not be available until after his 30th birthday - and would have to register as an overseas player to continue playing domestically for Western Province. He is clear that he is still open to playing for South Africa if selected but stresses that his primary aim is to play Test cricket and test himself at the highest level of the game.
"If I score runs for three years consistently, hopefully there's a gig somewhere," he says. "I don't want to cause any drama. If I score runs and play for whoever I play for, that's fine. I just want to score runs and do as well as I can. I really enjoy playing cricket here so my main thing is to play for Durham, do my days and eventually qualify as a local.
"If it works out and I'm still playing well, then perfect. If not, I still really enjoy playing county cricket. If that's the peak for me, that's the peak, but hopefully I can kick on because the main thing for me is to one day play Test cricket and see if I can cope or not.
"I want to play now, because playing at the highest level is obviously cool, but if it happens in three years, I've got that time to learn, adapt and improve. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, but I feel like I'm in a good space. And hopefully I can keep improving and scoring runs until I qualify and then I can crack it at Test cricket and score hundreds.
"I think sport is changing a bit in terms of age; it feels like if you're scoring runs now, you're scoring runs. [Jonathan] Trott came in quite late, [Michael] Hussey came in late. If I can give it a go for six years or so and hopefully score loads of hundreds, I'll look at my career and say I tried my best and did okay."
But in the short term, Bedingham's focus is on Durham. He feels a debt of gratitude to the county for taking a punt on him as their second overseas player when his status as a local expired - though after 1029 Championship runs at 60.52 last season, he has already repaid their faith.
"I've understood my game a bit better," he says. "I feel like I'm in a good space when I'm balanced at the crease - that is the most important thing for my game. In England, you play a lot of games so if you don't adjust, you'll struggle. I'm in a good place at the moment and hopefully it can continue.
"It's tough to compare [domestic cricket in England and South Africa] because over there the wickets are completely different and so are the bowlers. Over here, it's more mental. You play so much cricket and because the ball moves, if you go through a couple of low scores it can affect you mentally. Whereas there, you train a lot more than you play. If you have a part of your game that you don't really trust, you can work on it for two weeks until your next game.
"I'd like to win games for Durham this season, which you do by scoring big, big hundreds. Every time I bat, I like to try and score hundreds - and big ones, because hundreds change games. Our squad at the moment is looking quite strong. It's been built over a couple of years and hopefully this year we can play some good cricket and get [promoted] into Division One."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98