Form trumps transformation for now as Malan makes Proteas Test debut

Despite being passed fit, middle-order batsman Temba Bavuma will miss out on a Test return to the ground where he made history four years ago.

Pieter Malan, who made his first-class debut 13 years ago, has played 148 matches at an average of 45.16 runs.

CAPE TOWN - Despite being passed fit, Temba Bavuma will miss out on a return to the ground he made history four years ago in a decision that sees form trump transformation ahead of the second Test match against England at Newlands.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis confirmed that Cape Cobras opener Pieter Malan will make his Test debut at his home ground Newlands on Friday.

Malan, who made his first-class debut 13 years ago, has played 148 matches at an average of 45.16. Bavuma made history at Newlands in 2016 when he became the first black African batsman to score a Test century. His 102 not out is his only Test century in a career that averages 31.24 runs after 39 matches.

Du Plessis confirmed on Thursday that Bavuma passed a fitness test but would not be considered until he scored more runs in domestic cricket. Malan has been knocking on the door of the Proteas squad for some time now and been awaiting his chance.

An injury to the out-of-form Aiden Markram will see Malan partner Dean Elgar at the top of the order. Du Plessis said Rassie van der Dussen’s impressive Test debut at Centurion a week ago had earned himself an extended run in the Test team at the expense of Bavuma.

“Any player needs a bit of time. You feel like you get a bit of confidence by just getting an extended run. I feel that’s the right thing to do (with) Rassie, runs or no runs in the first Test. Temba did pass his fitness test. Right now it’s just about giving (Rassie) that extended run, and then Pieter Malan will come in at the top, making his debut at his home ground, which is the perfect script for him,” Du Plessis said.

The decision to leave out Bavuma is likely to raise some eyebrows among those who have highlighted the Proteas’ failure to field enough black African players in the first Test following Bavuma's exclusion due to injury. It’s a decision the team doesn’t take lightly, said Du Plessis, but one that was necessary on current form, and the Proteas’ need to win matches.

“We don’t see colour,” said Du Plessis. “I think it’s important that people understand that opportunity is important. Opportunity for any colour, so that’s why when I mention Rassie, it’s giving opportunity and backing opportunity, and being fair to every player to get a chance.”

After 39 Test matches, Bavuma has struggled to maintain his hold on the number five spot. Van der Dussen took advantage of his opportunity when Bavuma got injured and is assured of a longer stint in the middle order, after scoring his maiden half century at Centurion last week.

“Temba will be the first to admit that he got a really good opportunity. You can’t point any finger at that. Now it’s important for the general game in South Africa that we keep producing good cricketers. For me the colour is irrelevant,” Du Plessis said.