When Cape Town’s second cricket test was lit up by a whirlwind double ton by England’s Ben Stokes on second day, no one imagined a South African fight-back led by their captain Hashim Amla. Unruffled by England’s mammoth 629/6 decl., the South African skipper led from front and motivated Temba Bavuma to a maiden test hundred that saw the home side finish just 2 runs behind England on first innings. Bavuma’s gallantry brought new life to the drawn test match that ended before England crumbled in their second innings on January 6, 2016. Besides Ben Stokes’ scintillating knock, the Cape Down test will be remembered more for Bavuma’s century that brought emotional scenes in the stadium. Never in the history of South African cricket had a black player scored a century.
South Africa were a disappointed lot after their loss to England in Durban’s first test. The frontline batsmen of ICC’s no.1 test cricket nation looked out of their depth in both innings and except Dean Elgar, no other batsmen could cope with England’s bowling. In Cape Town’s second test, England dominated South African bowlers even after 5 wickets were lost for 223. The sixth wicket stand was worth 399 and England lost only just one more wicket after that. The second day’s play belonged to Ben Stokes, who was simply unstoppable. With Jonny Bairstow, Stokes completed the second fastest double century in test history after reaching 200 off 163 balls. Stokes, however couldn’t beat the New Zealander Nathan Astle, who had scored a double century off just 153 balls against England at Christchurch in 2001-02. But Stokes was involved in breaking the world record for the sixth-wicket partnership of 399 with Bairstow, eclipsing 365 put together by New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and BJ Watling against Sri Lanka Last year. Stokes’ 11 sixes also fell short by one and he couldn’t break Wasim Akram’s world record of 12 sixes against Zimbabwe in 1996. Stokes was finally out for 258 off 197 balls that contained 30 hits to the fence. Despite making a fine 150 not out off 191 balls, Jonny Bairstow’s commanding effort was eclipsed by Stokes double hundred.
Faced with 629/6, South Africa stared at another defeat after losing Van Zyl in the third over. South Africa were 85/2 in the 25th, when Hashim Amla and de Villiers began batting together. The South African skipper had not been among runs lately and therefore didn’t inspire much confidence. However, it proved to be a different day as Amla defied the odds and proved the statisticians wrong. He forked out two crucial partnerships; the first of which produced 183 runs for the third wicket with de Villiers and another of 171 with Faf du Plessis for the fourth. But England looked like coming back into the game, when they removed Amla, du Plesssis and de Kock in a space of 10 runs.
After the loss of these three quick wickets, South Africa were still adrift by 180 runs on the first innings. This was precisely when Temba Bavuma came in to create history. Bavuma’s highest score in tests until then, was 54 against Bangladesh in the third test at Chittagong in July 2015. But the 25-year old pint-sized Bavuma was unruffled even when he had only Chris Morris for company and the South African tail was widely exposed. He settled down into a rhythm and dealt with England’s bowlers with a brave stance. Disregarding the sledging by English fielders, Bavuma found his focus although his first boundary came from an inside edge. England’s hero Ben Stokes took the lead in sledging Bavuma because his big effort was about to be wasted. The 5 ft-3 inch tall Bavuma decided not be cowed down as he produced a top-class cover drive against Stokes and followed that up with three consecutive fours against Steve Finn. With Chris Morris supporting adequately, Bavuma took two more boundaries off Moeen Ali. Bavuma’s historic hundred came from a thick edge to the third man, after which he raised his bat amidst a deafening applause from the Cape Town viewers. Bavuma’s entire family was in the stands and there were scenes of emotional rejoicing.
In 24 years since apartheid left South African cricket, Bavuma became the first black to score a test century. Apart from the famous milestone, Bavuma also helped South Africa reach 627/6 before Amla applied the declaration. 17 years after Makhaya Ntini was drafted in the national team as the first black, 25-year old Bavuma’s achievement became a matter of great pride for the entire nation. While applause came from everywhere, cricket was the beneficiary on the momentous 5th day of January 2016.