Temba Bavuma ends seven-year wait with a high-pressure hundred

He bagged a pair in his first match after taking over the Test captaincy, but has bounced back emphatically

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Temba Bavuma scored his second Test century, South Africa vs West Indies, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day, March 10, 2023

Temba Bavuma celebrated his second Test century at the Wanderers  •  AFP/Getty Images

Temba Bavuma is used to handling crises.
"I always find myself in situations where I am coming in at No.5 or 6, and it's 20 for 4 or 10 for 2 or whatever it is, and you really have to try to soak in the pressure," he said.
So when he walked out to bat with South Africa 8 for 2, the lead just 77, and the opposition eyeing a middle order that is prone to collapses, he was not panicking. "You just have to try to absorb and when the opportunity comes, try and release. I think I've done that fairly well in my career, albeit I didn't have any big scores to back it up. Walking in that situation, is something that mentally I am accustomed to. My games also leans towards that."
Bavuma left six of his first eight deliveries, giving himself time to assess an atypical Wanderers surface, and had only scored 11 off his first 38 balls, which included some that kicked up off a length and others that stayed a touch low. He watched Aiden Markram nick one that he was forced to play at, and Ryan Rickelton reach for one he could have left, and knew that once the ball softened and the bowlers tired, variable bounce would be the biggest challenge.
When his fifty came up, off 107 balls, it looked like Bavuma would run out of partners before the idea of a century became real. When Heinrich Klaasen top-edged a pull, the prospect of another below-par innings and unfinished business for Bavuma loomed.
Enter Wiaan Mulder. "I said to him, he's got nothing to prove. He's done it before for the Lions, he's done it at county level, now it's just an opportunity for him to do what he's been selected to do," Bavuma said. "Maybe that that calmed him down. We have good synergy that also obviously would have helped him. I guess for us it was just trying to build that partnership. In doing that, that took the pressure off him and it was about the team."
Bavuma was also talking about himself. He was too concerned with getting the team into a position where they had batted West Indies out of the match than his own score. "My mindset was always just to stick to what I was doing. A hundred wasn't the target. It wasn't the objective. The objective was really to get to the end of day's play."
The prospect of a century only became real once he entered the nineties with a cut shot off Roach that brought a small Friday afternoon crowd to life. All 2378 of them lived every ball from that point on. They slow-capped every delivery and cheered every run with increasing volume, which peaked with the four overthrows that took him a shot away from the moment people have been waiting for since Bavuma's first Test century in 2016. "I was obviously quite happy that I got an extra four runs," Bavuma said. "I went from 91 to 96 and that does make things mentally a bit easier."
Naturally, there were also some nerves. Since his first century at Newlands, Bavuma has never got closer than an unbeaten 95, so 96 was unfamiliar territory and he could feel things changing. "The energy started picking up, I guess in anticipation of the milestone. My emotions also started picking up and I just kind of went with it at that moment."
His 97th run was a quick single at the start of an Alzarri Joseph over that Mulder saw off. The impatience grew. The clap became a beat or two faster. The cries from the crowd sounded more desperate. "Come on Tembaaaaa," became a plea and not a war cry.
His 98th came from a flick through midwicket at the start of a Roston Chase. He got back on strike for the fourth delivery and whipped Chase again but only as far as the fielder and got another one.
99. Mulder rotated strike again.
99 and facing. Chase pulled out of his delivery stride. 99 and still facing. Bavuma advanced and defended into the offside.
He and Mulder met in the middle for a long chat before Joseph's next over. Mulder must have confirmed that he'd take a single as quickly as possible because that's what he did. Then, they had another conversation, presumably with Mulder promising to run like his life depended on it if Bavuma thought a single was on. It turned out he wanted more than that. Joseph delivered a short ball asking to be cut but Bavuma slashed and missed. The Wanderers held its breath.
Joseph had also overstepped, and he overcompensated with his extra ball by going too full. That was the delivery Bavuma had been waiting for. He cracked it over the covers and held the pose as the ball crossed the boundary. At the other end, Mulder whooped and swooped as though he had scored the century while Bavuma removed his helmet and raised his bat to the changeroom, to his father in the Long Room and his mother in the stands and then to every part of the ground. Eventually he turned to Mulder and they shared a bear hug. After seven years of relative run-scoring famine, Bavuma has finally been able to feast.
"It's been a long journey and a lot more downs than ups," Bavuma said, maybe remembering that just four months ago, he returned from Australia unable to hold back tears and explain how South Africa had lost to Netherlands at the T20I World Cup. "I keep learning about myself every day in terms of the type of person and the type of cricketer that I am."
What we are now learning is that the usually sedate and serious Bavuma can also score runs at speed. Once he reached the hundred, he was obviously unshackled. He scored 71 runs off 81 balls and is now 29 away from a double century. For someone who had not scored a red-ball hundred at the Wanderers through a professional career based at this venue, that would be another crowning moment. "The guys are always teasing me about it (not scoring a hundred here). I can stick it to the guys in that one," Bavuma said. "And as I said before the series, West Indies sentimentally means quite a lot so I am going to try to bat as long as I can. I'm not about to give my wicket away."
Bavuma is not the only one for whom this hundred is about more than the numbers. He is now the first black African captain from South Africa to score a century, seven years after becoming the first to score a Test hundred. The significance of it is not lost on Bavuma. "It's about inspiring the next generation. Being a black Africa cricketer, it also allows other young black African batters to really dream they can also come and play for the Proteas and have their names entrenched in the history books."
Last week, Bavuma made history as one of only four captains to register a pair on their leadership debut and immediately questions were asked about how the leadership would affect his batting. His coach, Shukri Conrad, was asked that too and dead-batted the question saying that Bavuma was not the only player to get a pair. Conrad was the one who selected Bavuma as Test captain and Bavuma has acknowledged feeling "fully backed," by his coach. "I'm learning a lot from him in terms of the language that he speaks and also the challenging conversations that we have. Before the game, he challenged me. He asked some really tough questions. One of them was that just because I'm captain, who says I'm not going to score two ducks?"
Ask the Bavuma of 2014, who made his Test debut against West Indies at St George's Park, what he thinks of the Bavuma of 2023, and he would be "very proud," according to the man himself. "After everything that has happened I'm still managing to keep my head up, keep afloat and keep finding a way to move forward."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket