Sports

‘I don’t fight the responsibility’ – meet South Africa’s cricketing history-maker

Venue: Dubai International Cricket Stadium Date: 26 October Time: 11:00 BST
Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra commentary. Live text commentary, in-play clips and video highlights on BBC Sport website and app.

The first black African batsman to play Test cricket for South Africa, the first to score a Test century and the first to captain the national team.

Temba Bavuma has blazed a trail that could be topped by his becoming the first player to skipper the Proteas to victory at a World Cup.

The 31-year-old leads South Africa at their seventh Men’s T20 World Cup, with their best performances coming in 2009 and 2014 when they stumbled at the semi-final hurdle.

With South African cricket in the midst of a traumatic period in which the national administration lurched from one crisis to anotherexternal-link at the same time as allegations of racism were being levelled by former black players against their white team-mates, lifting the World Cup – against all odds, it must be said – would provide a welcome boost for the game in this country.

What a story it would be if the diminutive Bavuma, at only 5ft 3in tall, reaches the heights of Siya Kolisi, who captained the Springboks to victory at the Rugby World Cup in Japan two years ago to spark countrywide celebrations on the team’s return home.

Winning the T20 World Cup would be a huge achievement for an inexperienced group that began the tournament as the International Cricket Council’s fifth-ranked T20 team. Nearly half the 15-man squad, including Bavuma, will be playing their first global tournament.

Bavuma accepts his team must scale a massive mountain if they are to become world champions. “Lifting the World Cup is the goal – that will be great – but there’s a lot we need to achieve before getting to that point,” he tells BBC Sport.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself to put images of a rapturous welcome at the airport in my head.”

A good friend of Kolisi, Bavuma has gained insights into the secrets of the rugby team’s success.

“We share ideas in terms of the different sports, the different challenges from a leadership point of view and the pressures that come with playing at such a big event,” Bavuma says.

Siya Kolisi with the World Cup
Siya Kolisi became the first black captain of South Africa’s rugby team when he was appointed in 2018

“We’ve chatted about him being in his leadership position. It’s chats that we have informally, which makes it so nice. He’s a humble guy so he’ll never take sole responsibility for what the Springbok team has achieved.

“I take a lot of inspiration and confidence from the fact that he took over a side that probably wasn’t in the best of positions and, through his leadership, he was able to get the guys together and win the World Cup.”

An articulate and self-assured operator, Bavuma is no stranger to captaincy, having led the Lions franchise to two domestic T20 titles and one first-class trophy. In the 2018-19 season, his first as skipper, he scored a decisive 61-ball maiden T20 century in the T20 Challenge final.

Bavuma had also made a superb start to his international white-ball career, making 113 against Ireland in 2016 to become only the second South African to hit a century on one-day debut.

Graeme Smith, South Africa’s most successful captain and now Cricket South Africa (CSA) director of cricket, and selection convenor Victor Mpitsang were instrumental in entrusting Bavuma with the captaincy.

“We’ve always known about Temba’s leadership qualities,” Smith said when announcing his appointment in March.

“We’ve noticed the way he’s been operating in the squad and experience he brings. The nature of his tactical captaincy at the Lions and the feedback we’ve received from within the squad – from the managers and coaches – has been really positive.”

Bavuma says captaining South Africa was not a box he wanted to tick. “It was never an ambition of mine,” he reveals. “It came as a surprise. As a young kid you always strive to play for your country, to live your passion. Captaining the team is a bonus.”

Bavuma also bears the extra load as a role model for aspiring young black cricketers. “It is an added responsibility but it’s something that I’ve managed to carry and take in my stride,” he says.

“Early on in my international captaincy career it was a responsibility that proved to be a little heavy. Of late, I’ve accepted it; I don’t fight it. It’s become a bit easier to navigate.”

Temba Bavuma
Bavuma made his South Africa debut in a Test against West Indies in 2014

To complicate matters, a storm erupted around South Africa coach Mark Boucher, who was accused of racism by ex-spinner Paul Adams at CSA’s Social Justice and Nation-building hearings in July.

Adams testified under oath that he was racially abused by former team-mates, including Boucher, who allegedly sang a team song containing a racist term.

Boucher apologisedexternal-link “unreservedly for any offensive conduct, real or perceived” but described the allegations as “hurtful and factually incorrect”.

Bavuma, who discussed the issue with the embattled Boucher, says: “It was outside noise but it was the type of noise that as a team we couldn’t ignore. It found its way within the team and we had conversations about it.

“We spoke to Mark to really understand these allegations, to allow us as a team to move forward. We can’t take everything we hear in the media as gospel. You have to give people the opportunity to give their side of the story.

“This team is now in a much better situation. The chats we had gave us an opportunity to have a deep introspection and look at how we can do things better if need be.”

Although South Africa lost to Australia in the final over of their opening World Cup game on Saturday, face defending champions West Indies in Dubai on Tuesday in buoyant mood.

They have won their past three T20 series – against West Indies, Ireland and Sri Lanka – all of which were played away from home.

“Our performances have been very good of late,” says Bavuma. “We take the confidence from them and we’ll just try to drive with the momentum that we’ve gained.”

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