This hasn’t been a uniformly terrible tour for South Africa’s batsmen. Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock have both scored hundreds, and Faf du Plessis has made a couple of fifties. The lower order has stuck around to the extent that South Africa, on this tour, have achieved two of the five longest ninth-wicket partnerships ever seen in India.
But it has been a nightmare tour for South Africa against the new ball, and Temba Bavuma, their No. 4, isn’t shying away from that.
“Look, from the guys at the top, the top-order batters, the guys who are entrusted with scoring the bulk of the runs, it does kind of hurt,” Bavuma said at the end of the third day’s play in Pune. “It does dent your ego when you’re seeing the lower order go out and fight it out to do what you’re really playing to do.
“The boys are trying with the bat and I think, looking forward, looking at the second innings, there’s a lot of confidence we can take in the fact that it’s not all demons out there. We can actually bat. We’ve just got to find a way to dominate with the bat, as much as India have done so.
“I don’t have the answers as to where it’s going wrong. The obvious one is that we’re not able to put up partnerships. We haven’t been able to absorb and sustain the pressure that the Indian bowlers have put on us for a consistent period of time.
“And that’s obviously something that we’ll be trying to rectify. We’re going to have an opportunity now in the second innings, whether India decide to bat again, whether they decide to [enforce the] follow-on, we’re going to have an opportunity as batters to really stake our claim.”
In three innings on this tour, Bavuma has made 18, 0 and 8. He knows a lot more is expected of him.
“I can understand all the criticism and all the flak that is coming my way,” Bavuma said. “Like I’ve always said, as a batter your currency is runs and that’s what you’re judged according to. And when your performances are not at the level that we’re so accustomed to as South African batters, people are going to come hard.
“The South African public, the fans, are very proud and they’re used to a higher standard of cricket. Us as sportsmen represent the South African country – that’s the pressure we deal with. From my side as a player, it’s not as if I am going out there and trying to nick balls and trying to miss straight ones.
“I can honestly probably say, being critical of myself, that I’m giving my best but probably my best at this point in time is not good enough. In saying that, it is not something that I’ll shy away from. Criticism is a good thing. I’ve always felt that it’s just a matter of me, as a professional cricketer, stepping up to the pressure that is before me and trying to win back the support of the fans back home.”
At the end of the second day’s play, when South Africa were 36 for 3 in response to India’s 601 for 5 declared, their team director Enoch Nkwe had stern words for the players.
“We had an honest and truthful chat from the coach,” Bavuma said. “He gave us his true feelings, his true thoughts on how we had gone about our last two days. He was really critical of our effort. Basically he said with everything that’s happened, we’ve got to find a way.
“We haven’t come to India to lose, we haven’t necessarily come to India to just learn; we’ve actually come to compete and to win. That’s what our goal is. Yes, we haven’t done it in the first Test. We haven’t been able to do that in the first two-and-a-half days [here], but there’s an opportunity going forward to do it. Like I said, there is a responsibility from us to stake our claim and do everyone justice.”
“It was a spectacular effort from Vernon and Keshav to fight it out there out in the middle, and face as many balls as they did, and in saying that still accumulate runs. I mean, us in the change room and even on the sides, we were enjoying every moment of it.
“But as I said, we were feeding from the confidence they were giving us. You saw the balance between their defence as well as their attacking shots. That’s something we’ve been speaking about as batters. That’s been our aim in what we’re trying to do. The mood is definitely positive, the mood has been positive, to be honest. It was enjoyable, the 260-ball partnership between those two.”
There was more inspiration to take from the fact that Maharaj, who scored his first Test fifty, was batting with an injured right shoulder.
“There’s definitely a lot of positives to take,” Bavuma said. “This is a confidence-booster. Keshav is a big player in the team, obviously Vernon as well. For big players, for senior players in the team to step up when the occasion arises is definitely is something that you can stick out your chest on.
“Like I said, over the next two days we’re going to need a lot more of that, with the ball, with the bat, in every department, we are going to need guys to put up their hand and no matter which way the result goes, let’s just make sure that our pride is intact.”
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.