Why Bedingham is going to New Zealand, not the SA20

David Bedingham scored a fluid, assured 56 against India in the first Test
David Bedingham scored a fluid, assured 56 against India in the first Test ©Getty

A dozen days after the Newlands men's Test is scheduled to end, David Bedingham will board a flight to New Zealand as one of the most experienced players in South Africa's squad. He will, if he is in the XI in Cape Town, have two caps.

But that's two more than half the members of a squad of 14 that currently hold 50 caps between them. Or 300 fewer than South Africa's current squad - a dozen of whom won't be in New Zealand because they have been signed by SA20 franchises. The tournament will be played from January 10 to February 10, and the Tests, in Mount Maunganui and Hamilton, from February 4 to 13.

Players who are contracted by CSA are required to make themselves available for the SA20, and they are compelled to put the tournament ahead of their international commitments. Bedingham does not have a CSA contract. Also, he has priorities that differ from many modern players.

So when Shukri Conrad, South Africa's red-ball coach and sole selector since January last year, told Bedingham a place in the squad for New Zealand could be up for grabs because of the clash with the SA20, Bedingham knew what to do.

"Shuks called and said there's a possibility, and as soon as I hear there's a chance ... I'm quite a realistic guy, but when I heard that no-one in the SA20 could play I thought my chances of playing [in New Zealand] would be quite high," Bedingham said on Monday. "So I didn't give it a second thought. I told him I'd take my name straight out of the draft, so I could hopefully play."

Yes, you read that right: Bedingham chose Tests over T20s. "If those T20 comps come up for me, perfect," he said. "But the main aim is always Test cricket. Or first-class cricket." It seems four days at blustery, all but deserted, sagging into disrepair Newlands playing for Western Province, or at the Riverside for second-division Durham - who he has turned out for since August 2020 with a view to obtaining a UK passport - is further up Bedingham's to-do list than landing a glitzy T20 deal. Or maybe, given his T20 strike rate of 128.84 and the fact that he's played 87 first-class matches and 55 T20s, he knows what butters his bread.

But what would happen if a franchise in the SA20 offered him a million-billion in the coming days? Would he get back to Shuks to say he wouldn't be going to New Zealand after all? "I took my name out of the draft so I could play in New Zealand," Bedingham said. "Even if they wanted to I don't think I would be allowed to play [in the SA20] because my name wasn't in there originally."

On Saturday, South Africans learned that Tony de Zorzi, who is expected to step into the breach left when Dean Elgar retires after the Newlands Test, had been signed by Durban's Super Giants and so had taken himself out of the equation for New Zealand.

Like Bedingham, De Zorzi isn't contracted by CSA. Unlike Bedingham, he had kept his name in the SA20 hat. Doubtless that will earn De Zorzi criticism. It shouldn't. His match fees in New Zealand are unlikely to come close to what DSG would have agreed to pay him. And, without a CSA contract and besides what he earns from WP - which won't be much - De Zorzi has no salary security. Given those realities who wouldn't have taken up DSG's offer?

Bedingham, it would seem. But he has had different realities to overcome. Bedingham had to be cut from the wreckage of a car crash in December 2016 in which his jaw, hands and legs were damaged so badly it seemed his cricket career was over. He was sidelined for three days short of a year and, in his second match back, a list A game for Boland against Border in East London, he scored 104 not out. He made four more centuries in his next 13 first-class and list A innings.

Bedingham ended his 2023 campaign for Durham in September with 156 in a first-class match against Leicestershire at the Riverside. He has scored a century and five half-centuries in 14 first-class and list A innings for WP this summer.

That was enough to crack the nod with Conrad earlier than the New Zealand tour; in the first Test against India in Centurion last week. He repaid that faith by scoring a fluid, assured 56, a performance that would be beyond many debutants. But perhaps not those who will turn 30 in April and have taken guard for the 137th time in a first-class match. Did he feel as if he should have earned his chance earlier?

"If it happened three years ago or if it happened a week ago, it's fine with me," Bedingham said. "But because I've played so much it makes you learn your ups and your downs. That prepares you better for Test match cricket. It helped me with trying to keep my emotions low and focusing as best as I could."

Asked by reporters from India who his boyhood cricketing heroes were, Bedingham said, "Definitely Herschelle Gibbs. Jacques Kallis was from my school [Wynberg Boys' High] ... or, I was from his school. So I tended to watch those two." Pushed further on the subject by those reporters, who are - compared to the South African press - starved of interactions with India's players, Bedingham said his favourite stars from that country were "by a country mile" Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. "When I was 13 to 15, or even 18, I was trying to mould my technique on theirs. So if I had a bad game I'd change my technique to copy Kohli's, and if that failed I'd try copy Sharma."

While that was going on a familiar figure arrived on Newlands' outfield to observe South Africa's training session. Sensibly dressed on a hot day in shorts and a casual shirt, he was surrounded by his children, had a friend in tow, and was greeted warmly by Conrad and some of the players.

He was, depending on who you ask, the man who had saved cricket in South Africa from itself by making the first edition of the SA20 a resounding success, or the man to blame for the state of the squad being sent to New Zealand. Happy New Year, SA20 league commissioner Graeme Smith.



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