After second Day Test 3 of West Indies tour in South Africa, Proteas now lead West Indies by 356 runs at the Wanderers with captain making heroic century statement.
The wait between Temba Bavuma’s first and second Test century was 2 619 days long, but when it did come, it was when his team required those runs the most.
The net result was ensuring the second Test between South Africa and the West Indies will go into a fourth day.
When Bavuma (171*) strode out at 10:18 at the fall of Tony de Zorzi’s wicket, the score was 8/2.
But, at the end of an absorbing day, the Proteas finished on 287/7 and with a massive lead of 356. It was largely thanks to Bavuma’s broad and often pressured shoulders.
Bavuma’s 369-minute knock moved South Africa from a position of match-losing weakness to a point where the West Indies now have to reel in the highest successful fourth-innings chase at the Bullring.
That’s how important Bavuma’s dig was, and in an era where three-figure captain’s knocks have been few and far between for South Africa.
It’s worth remembering that Bavuma was subjected to the ignominy of a pair in his first Test as captain – such is the vicious and mischievous, yet enjoyable, nature of cricket.
He scored more than half of his team’s runs on a day when the West Indies had them on the rack with spells of mesmerising, military medium pace bowling in what was a difficult morning session for the hosts.
Kyle Mayers (2/25) and Raymon Reifer (1/30) were unlikely partners in crime, reducing South Africa to 65/4. The Windies must have fancied their chances of batting after tea after Jason Holder’s heroic 81* ensured South Africa only had a lead of 69.
South Africa only led by 134 and were in danger of being bundled out cheaply, but Bavuma, whose 19 other 50-plus scores have come after his seminal 102* against England at Newlands in January 2016, understood the gravity of the situation and batted with the necessary care, diligence and later on, measured belligerence that befitted the changing situations.
The fact that South Africa lost their first wicket off just the third ball of the day was a harbinger of things to come.
Elgar (5), who has looked comfortable all series without making the relevant runs, inexplicably guided Mayers to Roston Chase at gully.
The tall Roston Chase was so disbelieving of the gift that came in his direction, he had to have two grabs to ensure the catch wasn’t grassed.
That wicket fell at 10:03.
De Zorzi (1) was the next to fall to Mayers, inside-edging a ball that could’ve been left onto his off-stump.
It was a shot that lacked conviction and at 10:17, the Proteas were 8/2.
It was important that Markram (18) reigned in his attacking instincts and, in recognising the situation, he did so.
However, at 11:00, he received what was the ball of the session when a Kemar Roach delivery that ducked in and moved away squared him up and took his outside edge.
That was 32/3 and Joshua da Silva, who was incessantly sledged by the hosts during his crucial partnership with Holder, let off a joint roar with Roach that not only pierced the bright blue sky, but punctured the Proteas’ batting soul.
Bavuma and Ryan Rickelton (10) needed to keep SA afloat and for 57 minutes in their stand of 37, they both dead batted what came their way and made the most of minimal scoring opportunities.
Rickelton, though, was clearly flustered by Reifer’s nagging off-stump line that moved the ball away from him.
When he was claimed by the left-arm medium pacer on what became the stroke of lunch at 11:57, the Proteas were 69/4.
It was definitely advantage West Indies, who were clearly riding the crest of the momentum created by Holder’s knock.
Bavuma is a noted firefighter, but he needed to move between his salvage job and being run surgeon by stitching together partnerships.
He first shared a 24-run stand with Markram, then partnered with Rickelton for 37.
The Bavuma/Heinrich Klaasen alliance of 34 had the potential to take the game away from the visitors.
The wicket-keeper though succumbed to incessant chatty pressure from his opposite, Da Silva, when Klaasen (14) skied a short-ball that Da Silva caught at square-leg.
That meant South Africa was 103/5 after the loss of the wicket at 13:32, leaving Bavuma and the under-pressure Wiaan Mulder (42).
They guided South Africa to tea without further loss at 145/5 and Bavuma was on 81.
It was from here where Bavuma and Mulder took the game by the scruff of the neck.
They took 20 off Roach’s first two overs after tea, an assertive move that not only allowed him to spend just seven balls in the 90s, but also brought a significant pressure release.
The West Indies had only conceded 65 and 76 runs respectively in the previous two sessions.
But in the evening session, they went for 142, 90 coming off Bavuma’s bat in the march to his 100 and beyond.
The crowd wasn’t big, but the outpouring of emotions was intense after Bavuma drilled Joseph for four through cover after a nervy previous delivery.
The moment had been worth it, and it rescued his side from a precarious position.
It was unfortunate that Mulder didn’t reach a deserved maiden Test 50 when he picked out Tagenarine Chanderpaul at fine leg off Joseph, but the monkey was off Bavuma’s back.
Bavuma needed only 62 balls to motor from 100 to 150 as he nailed home the advantage he had worked so hard to earn.
He put together a 71-run stand with Simon Harmer (19) that moved the West Indies’ target past the 310/8 Australia had reeled in to beat South Africa in 2011.
Harmer didn’t see out the day, but Bavuma did and when he was clapped off by the crowd and his opponents, it was well-deserved.
South Africa: 320 and 287/7 (Temba Bavuma 171*, Wiaan Mulder 42, Simon Harmer 19, Kyle Mayers 2/25, Alzarri Joseph 2/49, Jason Holder 1/35, Raymon Reifer 1/36)
West Indies: 251 (Holder 81*, Mayers 29, Roston Chase 28, Joshua da Silva 26, Gerald Coetzee 3/41, Kagiso Rabada 2/19, Harmer 2/63)
South Africa leads by 356 runs