Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Bavuma retains hope and perspective amid unfair comparisons before WC. "There's a lot of inspiration we can take from the Springboks," Bavuma said
"There's a lot of inspiration we can take from the Springboks," Bavuma said
The question was unfair. So Temba Bavuma was within his rights to smile wryly, look upward and outward of the screen, and rub a hand over his beard as he kept his thoughts to himself. But only after he had answered.
It wasn't the first time Bavuma had been unfairly questioned and it won't be the last. And, being the man of good graces he is, he has always answered and doubtless will keep answering. This time, at an online press conference on Sunday, he was asked, essentially, why South Africa's cricket teams don't perform more like their rugby side.
On Australia's Gold Coast on Saturday, the Springboks overcame a nine-point deficit to inflict the All Blacks' first loss in 11 matches, beating them 31-29 with the last kick of a game in which the lead changed hands four times in the last five minutes.
The New Zealanders had secured the Rugby Championship – the sport's southern hemisphere title – a week earlier, when they beat South Africa 19-17. But this is rugby's blue riband fixture, easily as anticipated as the cricket world awaits the Ashes or showdowns between India and Pakistan. So the wider context of a dead rubber fades into irrelevance in the still wider context of a rivalry that towers over mere circumstance.
Saturday's epic stayed true to that narrative. The Springboks regained the world No. 1-ranking they had relinquished to the All Blacks last weekend. The victory followed three Springbok losses, the first two to Australia – always unedifying for South Africans, who largely regard the Wallabies as inferior, dishonest and cynical opponents despite the fact that, like the Springboks, they have won the Championship, or its forerunner, the Tri-Nations, four times.
The All Blacks have been kings of the southern hemisphere 18 times since the competition began in 1996. But only South Africa and New Zealand have won the World Cup as many as three times.
So the real competition, for South Africans, will always be against New Zealand. And the performance of South Africa's cricket teams – especially in major tournaments – will, however unfairly, always be viewed through a set of rugby posts.
“There's a lot of inspiration we can take from the Springboks,” Bavuma said. “As much as how they performed in the Championship didn't go according to how they would have wanted, you always had that sense of belief that they could win it at the time. That fight that they have and the resilience they've shown over the years, it's something that we admire. As the Proteas, we bank on our resilience. We know people want us to do it on the big stage in pressure moments.”
That people do, and they will be watching intently for signs of change when Bavuma leads his team at the men's T20 WC in the UAE and Oman. Famously, South Africa have never won a senior cricket World Cup of any description. Infamously, they have been a greater threat to their own success than their opponents when the heat has been on. They have found ways to lose games that seemed to have been won. That cannot be said about the Springboks. Keeping the correct perspective in sharp focus will thus be key to South Africa's chances at the T20 WC. That job falls to Bavuma.
“Looking at the position I am in, you acknowledge the responsibility leaving South African shores and knowing what you are responsible for,” he said. “And the thinking of when you come back to South Africa, things could be different; your life could be different.” Winning a World Cup would do that. But so would losing, especially in ways that would make rugby fans change the channel.
“You allow yourself to rely on hope or faith, whatever you want to call it,” Bavuma said. “I don't want to play it too much in my head. I believe I have done all I can to hold myself in the coming moments. I really don't think I should be trying new things or trying to bring out a different version of myself. As I've always done, especially of late, is take things day by day and trust things will look after themselves, if I do the right things.”
One of which is getting back onto the park. Bavuma hasn't played since having his thumb broken by a throw from the field while batting in the first ODI against Sri Lanka in Colombo on September 2. The estimation was that he would need four weeks to regain match fitness. Four weeks from September 2 was Thursday. “I started batting [on Saturday] just to feel it out,” he said. “According to the medical team everything is still on schedule. I am quite happy with where it's at. It's obviously not 100% at the moment but I am building it up.”
More unfairness came Bavuma's way while he was out of action. Keshav Maharaj took over the captaincy and, after Sri Lanka won the ODIs 2-1, guided South Africa to a 3-0 domination in the T20Is. Maharaj led bravely and decisively, which showed in his enthusiasm for deploying as much spin as he could find even though that differed from the standard South African approach. It didn't take long for the anti-Bavuma brigade, who try but fail to hide their racism under a cloak of what they call “cricketing reasons”, to use Maharaj's success to argue for the removal from the team of South Africa's first black captain.
“I don't harp on about being a black African,” Bavuma said. “But it is quite significant, from all angles. It adds to the pressure that is already there but it's also a privilege that I believe I've been blessed to have. If the opportunity is there, and the team plays accordingly, we'd like to do something special for the country.”
Closer to the truth of Bavuma's time away from the unkind glare was that while he was out of sight, he wasn't out of his team's minds. “I was quite engaged, having conversations with the coach [Mark Boucher] and Keshav, just to get to their thinking, their understanding and sharing my own ideas,” he said. “I was more involved than I normally would be if I was on the sidelines.” He liked what he saw: “It wasn't so much the victories but just the way they went about their business. They were super clinical with the bat and with the ball they were very, very ruthless.”
The South Africans prepared for the T20 WC at a camp in Durban, but had to do so without squad members Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi – who are all playing in the IPL in the UAE. Bavuma saw the upside: “We're banking on those guys to bring back some good intel for us in terms of what to expect.”
Bavuma's side will play warm-up games against Afghanistan on October 18 and against Pakistan two days later. They start their campaign proper against Australia on October 23. Three days after that they take on West Indies, then play against the two as yet unknown qualifiers. They will end their league stage against England on November 6. Of those opponents, only No. 1-ranked England are higher on the ladder than South Africa, who are fifth. But they will know that counts for little at tournament time.
“I don't think you will like me much if I say I don't back us to get out of the group stages,” Bavuma said. “It's a tough group we are in, but I don't think we'd want it differently. As tough as it may seem, we back ourselves. I know a lot of people out there don't but we back our chances.”
There's a silver lining in the fact that, of South Africa's squad of 15, only eight have played in major tournaments: De Kock, Maharaj, Miller, Ngidi, Dwaine Pretorius, Rabada, Shamsi and Rassie van der Dussen. So Bavuma, Bjorn Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Maharaj, Wiaan Mulder and Nortje are unscarred by what has gone before.
In this, too, there is a rugby angle. The match between the Springboks and the All Blacks last weekend was the 100th between the sides, and came 100 years after the first. Bavuma's squad will take exactly 100 caps worth of World Cup, Champions Trophy and T20 WC experience into the T20 WC.
But here's the last kick of this unfair game: of the Springboks' 23 for Saturday's game, 17 were part of the squad that hammered England 32-12 in the 2019 World Cup final. But for injury, Cheslin Kolbe, a peerless pocket rocket of a wing, would have been the 18th. One of the 17, 34-year-old utility back Francois Steyn, was also on hand for the 15-6 win over England in the 2007 final. Steyn is the second South African after iconic prop Os du Randt, who was part of the 1995 and 2007 World Cup winning sides, to know the feeling twice.
It's a feeling, a powerfully bonding continuity, that no South Africa cricketer knows. Bavuma and his men have the chance to change that. The Springboks, like millions of their compatriots, will be cheering them on.