AUS vs SA Tests – I respect what he has been through

Dean Elgar supports the space white-ball captain Temba Bavuma was given ahead of the upcoming Test series in Australia. He is also committed to getting the best out of Bavuma in the longest format.

Bavuma was the only specialist batter in the squad who was not required to play a first-class match in the lead-up to the tour after a chastening T20 World Cup and a difficult period for him, personally. Bavuma missed South Africa’s tour of England, went unsold at the SA20 auction – as did Elgar – and struggled for form in the lead-up to the World Cup, where calls for him to be dropped grew.

In the aftermath of South Africa’s tournament-exiting defeat to Netherlands, Bavuma indicated he would take time to decide on his white-ball future and would not allow raw emotion to cloud his judgment. There has been no further indication of whether Bavuma has made a decision, and no feedback from Cricket South Africa about it, but Elgar has been in touch with his deputy and has sympathy for this position.

“I respect what he has been through,” Elgar said. “I can’t speak for what he has been through because I wouldn’t know how to deal with it personally. For now, I am respecting the space he is in.

“The time off has done him well. He wanted to have a break from the game for a little while and you’ve got to respect that as well. He has got a lot of pressure on his plate, but we still have work to do and he has to be in the right space for the team.

“That’s going to be the message I put forward to him, and I am pretty sure he will respond well. He hasn’t played a lot of cricket of late and it’s up to me to get him into the right space, so we give him the best opportunity to go out and play his brand of Test cricket.”

Despite his poor T20 form, Bavuma has been among South Africa’s most successful Test batters in the last two years. Since December 2020, he averages 47.93 and has scored six half-centuries, which is a better return than anyone else in the line-up. He was sorely missed in England, where South Africa were bowled out for under 200 four times and lost the series 2-1.

Elgar put some of the failures down to the swinging ball and expects things could be slightly easier in Australia.

“We had a very tough series in England. The conditions were bowler friendly and a lot of guys were exposed to the harsh conditions of Test cricket,” he said. “Going to Australia, it is a little bit more of a fairer competition between bat and ball, where the wickets that they produce are pretty good cricket wickets.”

Even on less hostile surfaces, South Africa have not done as well as a team ranked second on the World Test Championship (WTC) table would have liked. In two home Tests against Bangladesh this summer, there were no hundreds among their line-up, and they have only scored two centuries in the current WTC cycle.

“If you have got a bowling line-up like we have, you need runs on the board to give them the opportunity to take 20 wickets.”

Dean Elgar

Elgar has not scored a century since the beginning of 2021, and Bavuma has yet to add to his first hundred which came in 2016. This is the tour where Elgar wants that to change.

“We haven’t been good enough with the bat,” he said. “We are not going to hide away from that. Batters have to take responsibility. At the end of the day, it’s their careers in their hands and they are playing for South Africa. There are a lot of guys that want to play for South Africa who are knocking on the door hard. It’s up to the batters to take responsibility. We are not shying away from that language. Honest chat is the only chat for me.”

And in that vein, Elgar confirmed that all 16 players travelling to Australia will be equally considered for Test selection, which is particularly important for the batting. South Africa’s top six is far from certain, with Elgar set to open with Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen and Bavuma returning and a tussle for middle-order spots between Heinrich Klaasen, Theunis de Bruyn, Khaya Zondo and Kyle Verreynne.

South Africa are also considering lengthening their line-up to include seven specialist batters, as was their strategy between 2012 and 2015-6, and four bowlers rather than the usual six-five unit, which allows them to play four quicks and a spinner.

“Both options are definitely still on the table,” Elgar said. “At the end of the day, it’s got to be what I am happy with taking on the field and whether I feel the bowlers have got enough in their tank to perform a heavy workload. Either way, it will be a positive move we make, whether we go with seven-four or six-five. Currently, we are still in a bit of debate around it.”

Whichever South Africa decide, Elgar is adamant that South Africa’s focus has to be on scoring runs above anything else. “Runs on the board is key in Australia. If you have got a bowling line-up like we have, you need runs on the board to give them the opportunity to take 20 wickets.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

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