T20 World Cup: Can a new South Africa emerge under captain Bavuma?
In the World T20, the country’s first Black skipper may have to deal with a change room divided and selection issues.
Even as the South Africans look to turn over a new leaf under the leadership of Temba Bavuma at the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the fires sparked by off-field travails continue to burn at home. The ongoing Social Justice & Nation Building (SJN) hearings – initiated by Cricket South Africa (CSA) in July to look into the issue of racial discrimination in the sport – are continuing to invoke jitters, having brought to light a series of unpleasant revelations about the obnoxious side of a team we grew to appreciate for its competitiveness during the late 1990s and 2000s.
A bunch of white cricketers discriminating among teammates on the basis of colour just as South Africa was coming out of the Apartheid era reeks of privilege alright, but it gets murkier once claims emerge that the current head coach, Mark Boucher, was part of that boorish clique. The former South Africa gloveman has owned up to a “lack of maturity and consciousness” and said that he has learned from his errors. He will now have to walk the talk within the confines of the dressing room.
It is in this context that Bavuma's recent elevation to the white-ball captaincy becomes significant. At a time when South African cricket is under the microscope for all the wrong reasons, the importance of being the first black man to lead the team on a full-time basis cannot be underestimated. There will, of course, be those who argue that this is just symbolism, but a successful stint for the 31-year-old could also be a meaningful first step towards a more inclusive future.
The task for Bavuma is far from straightforward. When South Africa take on Australia in the opener on Saturday, Bavuma will be making his first-ever appearance in a global event. To do so as captain can feel like a baptism of fire.
“I don't harp on a lot about being a black African but it is quite significant, from all angles. You talk about extra pressure, thinking about it now, it adds onto the pressure that is already there,” Bavuma was quoted as saying before leaving for the T20 World Cup. “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.”
The fact that the South African team hasn't yet been able to come to a consensus on whether to take the knee in support of the 'Black Lives Matter' movement is an apt reflection of the divisions that exist. While all the coloured players have been taking the knee, the others have been divided in their approach.
The on-field problems are manifold too. For a start, they have excluded the experienced Faf du Plessis, who has just finished the IPL as the competition’s second-highest run-getter and played a winning hand in the final for champions Chennai Super Kings. Deon Botes, a prominent coach who has trained the likes of du Plessis and AB de Villiers during their formative years, wasn’t amused by the former SA skipper’s omission.
“South Africa are going to miss du Plessis. He is a really big player and has got a lot of experience. He has done well in the IPL. It’s not a good thing that he’s not there. I am sure the selectors have their own reasons, but we are going to need his experience,” Botes told HT.
Aside from du Plessis’ exclusion, there is another reason why Botes felt South Africa don’t have much of a chance. “For me, World Cups are won by good bowling attacks. Everyone always looks at batters. (Kagiso) Rabada and (Anrich) Nortje are good bowlers and (Tabraiz) Shamsi is also a good spinner, but I think we are one or two bowlers short. For SA to win the World Cup, we will need a lot of luck. It can happen in T20s but I will be surprised if we get to the final,” he said, speaking from Pretoria.
It may not be all doom and gloom though. Having dealt with some special talents to have emerged from the rainbow nation, Botes picked 18-year-old Dewald Brevis as the player to watch out for.
“We are in a phase of transition. I am involved with the SA U19s. There is a boy called Brevis who bats exactly like ABD. There is talent there, but a lot of the senior players in SA finished their careers at almost the same time. Everyone goes into a rebuilding phase. Teams like India are fortunate that they have millions of promising batters. It is easier for them,” said Botes.