In the last two months, Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada have moved tectonic plates in the context of South African sport. Their achievements on the field come as the perfect antidote to a tough series loss for South Africa; the futures looks bright. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
“With South Africa’s history, seeing them come through in the way they did was one of the highlights of my career.”
Those words from AB de Villiers perfectly sum up the context of the emergence of Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada from the ashes of the 1-2 series defeat against England. Anyone who had any doubt that both players were in the side for any reasons other than their talents have now surely been proven gigantically wrong.
With 13 sticks to his name, Rabada equalled Makhaya Ntini’s record for most wickets taken in a match by a South African. He became the youngest South African to take a ten-wicket haul, and the second youngest ever to take 13 in a match. Bavuma’s unbeaten 78 made him South Africa’s fourth-highest scorer in Tests since the start of 2015. They are the future of South African cricket because of their cricketing talent, but in the context of sport in the country, the fact that they are also both black cannot be ignored. That they have done this in a series named after a man who played for England because his own country rejected him based on the colour of his skin makes this seems almost as if it was written in the stars. If Basil D’Oliveira was still around, he would have many reasons to smile.
Sport has always been an antidote for the stark realities of South African society and the need for role models will always be there. Through their performances over the last two months, both Rabada and Bavuma will have inspired thousands of youngsters – black and white – to either mark out a long-run up, or face that bowler marking his run up without fear, even if you are less than half his height. They have the ability to inspire a new generation of black cricketers because they are evidence of what can be achieved through access to resources and opportunities. They will inspire kids of all races because they are genuinely exciting and talented players who have made their mark on the world stage, but they have both followed different routes to the top.
Bavuma was born in a township while Rabada lived a relatively privileged childhood in Johannesburg. Both are acutely aware of the role they play in the context of South African sport. When Rabada was just a little kid, his neurosurgeon dad would take him to some of South Africa’s most impoverished neighbourhoods. Rabada could not understand the poverty and, on his own accord, started to donate clothes and shoes to the kids he encountered. From an early age, Rabada had an acute understanding of the need for compassion, something he still carries with him.
Like Rabada, Bavuma still has a close affinity to the club where he honed his skills in his early days, and just recently helped organise the Langa All Day Cricket festival. Despite now living in Johannesburg, he still visits Langa regularly, handing out clothes, food parcels and gifts. This awareness from both will go a long way in not only furthering their own careers, but the careers of those who will look up to them.
But that we find the success of talented black cricketers as something unusual is concerning. Access to resources remains a critical part of the struggle to produce young, black sportsmen in South Africa, and both players are evidence of what happens when that talent is unlocked through opportunities. Bavuma had to move to Johannesburg and attend St David’s to hone his skills, while Rabada had an array of choices at St Stithians, but the impact that they can have now should not be underestimated. In an interview with the Indian Express, Rabada’s school coach, Wim Jansen said: “Those kids in townships need a mentor, a hero and Kagiso is going to leave a huge impact on them.”
For his dad, who took his stump souvenir after his record achievement, what he wants from his son is simple: “To be compassionate, to do good, to help and inspire others by being the best he can in his chosen field — what more can I as a father ask from him?”
Both Rabada and Bavuma have made inroads in the context of South African sport over the last few months, and will continue to do so in years to come. The fact they are so different simply adds to the impact they could have on the South African sporting landscape. One is a feisty batsman who has toyed with some top class bowling, and made them look foolish because they could not figure out how to adjust to his height. The other is a fast bowler who has made some batsmen look foolish and who only really started taking cricket seriously when he was 16. One is little. One is large. But in the context of South African sport, both are giants. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Temba Bavuma (left) and Kagiso Rabada celebrate the wicket of England’s Nick Compton (not in picture) during the second cricket test match in Cape Town, South Africa, January 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.