Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - 'Off field moments could've broken us or brought us together, it did the latter'. "We want to avoid a situation where things are being dictated or instructed to players."
"We want to avoid a situation where things are being dictated or instructed to players."
When people told Temba Bavuma to “go and enjoy the experience” of captaining South Africa at the T20 WC, they were trying to be nice about a team they thought were on a hiding to nothing. And so he shouldn't entertain serious thoughts of coming home with his stature enhanced.
Except that he has. Bavuma was behind only Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram in terms of runs, highest score and balls faced. He opened the batting without significant success in his first two innings, but was a stabilising influence in a fractious line-up when he moved to the middle order for his last two knocks.
But all statistics pale into insignificance in light of Bavuma's performance in the aftermath of Quinton de Kock's refusal – because CSA's board had instructed the team to take a knee – to play against West Indies in Dubai on October 26. Not only did Bavuma guide his clearly rattled players to a sound win, he took on the responsibility for explaining De Kock's decision at the press conference that followed.
To do so would have meant, at some level, putting aside his own feelings on the issue: Bavuma has had no trouble taking a knee, the globally accepted gesture to indicate support for the fight for social justice.
Consider the implications of a black citizen of a country that, until relatively recently, criminalised blackness and remains in the grip of white supremacy, opting to serve as a human shield for a white compatriot who has done something that has enraged millions – and that could in itself be considered racist. Yes, it is that complicated.
And it seems it was, for someone as clear-headed as Bavuma, obvious what needed to be done. “Everything happened quite quickly; there was no latest to consult with anyone from my side,” he told an online press conference on Tuesday. “I found myself having to weigh up both sides of the story and to then be able to express my opinion. Sometimes that's the best way to go about something when you don't really have a lot of time to think about it. You can speak to the merits of what is at hand. It doesn't have to be premeditated or scripted and fake.”
All South Africans should be proud and humbled to share a nationality with someone who, in extreme circumstances, found the skill, maturity and empathy required to deal with a situation that he couldn't have imagined would be thrust upon him, and that would have sunk a lesser captain and his team without a trace.
Bavuma went to the tournament with a lack of belief in his ability as a T20I player – never mind as captain of the national team – ringing in his ears. Some of it was justified: his career strike rate of 123.09, which was 126.93 before the World Cup, is too low in a format where the benchmark is 140. Some of it was racist: of South Africa's current players only Markram and Heinrich Klaasen bat at or above 140 at the international level. De Kock doesn't, and neither did AB de Villiers. Yet De Kock and De Villiers, who are white, don't attract the kind of criticism routinely levelled at Bavuma.
“If I look at my Proteas career, there's always been some type of pressure around me,” he said. “And rightfully so. As an international cricketer that's the environment that you operate in. Over the years, I've learnt ways to deal with that pressure, to try put aside the emotions and deal with the issue at hand.”
The parameters of that conversation have been redrawn in the wake of the De Kock moment. No doubt Bavuma knew he had it in him to do what he did. Now everybody does. He left for the T20 WC as a cricketer. He has returned a leader.
The contrast is profound, and Bavuma said he had noticed its effects: “There's been a bit of a shift; a different type of energy. That's quite warming. Interacting with the media through these types of forums gives me that sense in that the backing and support is there. Me coming in as the captain, the responsibility was always going to be big. There was always going to be pressure and expectation from all angles.”
Forty-five hours after De Kock walked out, he issued a statement in which he apologised and committed himself to taking a knee. He also wrote: “There always seems to be a drama when we go to World Cups. That isn't fair.” It isn't, because it leaves those who have not created the drama to clean up the resultant mess. Happily, unlike in the past, that was done effectively.
“There were matters that happened off the field that put us under pressure, and they were challenging times as a team,” Bavuma said. “I believe that we were able to get through those moments. They could have broken us or brought us together, and I think it was more the latter.
“I was put in situations that are very hard to prepare for. I am grateful that I was able to get out of those situations. In terms of the trust, of the backing of each other and the confidence in each other, that's definitely grown. We are in a better space.”
Despite losing only one of their five group games, South Africa didn't qualify for the semi-finals. They finished with eight points, along with Group 1 leaders England and Australia – who claimed the second semi spot because their net run rate was 0.477 higher than South Africa's. Even so, Bavuma's team had punched above their weight.
“Before the World Cup not a lot of people had much faith in us,” he said. “Those were people within my own circles as well. The type of messages I got were along the lines of, ‘Go and enjoy the experience'. There wasn't much about setting our sights on winning the World Cup.
“As the tournament unfolded, the sentiments changed. Us qualifying [for the semi-finals] became a bit more of a realistic goal until Australia beat Bangladesh the way they did.” Against Bangladesh, the Aussies chased down their target of 73 in 6.2 overs to boost their net run rate from -0.627 to +1.031.
CSA's directive to the team on October 26 was that they should kneel for the rest of their games in the T20 WC. They have a full season coming up, centered on an all-format tour by India in December and January. What will happen now?
“A guy like [Test captain] Dean Elgar will have to be part of the conversation to see how we are going to do things going forward,” Bavuma said. “I would assume all decision-makers, all role-players, will be involved in that decision. You will find a situation where it's the team, the board, probably [director of cricket] Graeme Smith as well, and then a decision will be made.”
Beyond the boundary, being black in South Africa – and much of the rest of the world – means being regarded and treated as second, third or even fourth-class. There is much work to be done to change that. “The important bit is how does this all translate into our everyday life,” Bavuma said. “We can all go out there, raise our fists, go onto the knee. But if deep down in the heart, you're not really for the cause and what it stands for, and it doesn't show in your everyday behaviour, then I guess it brings into question the authenticity of it all.”
The board issued their decree for the players to kneel after months of unhappiness with their three-pronged approach: some took a knee, others stood and raised a fist or simply stood. All the black and brown players kneeled. All the players who stood were white. The seeming division was a sore sight.
“Going forward, the decision is going to have to be collective; that's important,” Bavuma said. “We want to avoid a situation where things are being dictated or instructed to players. Importantly, how does it show in our everyday behaviour? Not just in our Proteas team, but within the country as a whole. Our country has big, big, big problems and that's where the energy, in my opinion, should really be spent.”
Unlike Bavuma, Mark Boucher has come back to a cooler welcome. South Africa have won 17 of their last 23 games across the formats, claimed four of their last six bilateral series with another drawn, and performed better than expected at the T20 WC. Yet, in accordance with a narrative of negativity that has been afoot since his appointment in December 2019 – long before he acknowledged and apologised for racist elements of the culture of South Africa teams in which he played – Boucher isn't given his share of the credit. How testing had his time in the job been, and did he feel supported?
“It's a tough question because whatever I say people will try and write it in a different way,” Boucher said. “To say it hasn't been tough would be lying. It was tough on me as an individual and also on the team. We addressed the issue [of previous teams singing racist songs], and I'd like to believe I had their backing after the honest chats that we had.
“I know there's a lot of media who probably don't want me in this position. My agenda has always been to get the best out of this group of players and get South African cricket to where I believe we should be, and that's near the top again. Until anything else happens I will continue to try and do that to the best of my ability. There are times where I might feel backed, there are times where I might feel not backed. My focus is on the players, quite simply. And it will continue to be as long as I'm in this position.”
Two people give their best in the same cause. Opposing factions celebrate only one of them. The other is vilified. Welcome to South Africa.