Temba Bavuma smacks off-field issues to leg in run-up to India tour
It’s a relief for SA’s cricketers to go into a series without distractions and with players in good form.
The Proteas men’s team departed for India on 1 June with a sense of stability and certainty instead of the atmosphere of foreboding and unpredictability of the past few months.
With disciplinary and gross misconduct charges against coach Mark Boucher dropped last month, and the ensuing fallout and criticism subsiding, the business of cricket can hopefully take centre stage.
White-ball skipper Temba Bavuma was certainly hoping for that to be the case as he gave some insight into the toll the Boucher versus Cricket South Africa (CSA) saga had taken on the team.
“There’s a lot of relief within the whole cricket fraternity that these off-field issues have been resolved and put to bed,” Bavuma said on the eve of the departure for India to play five T20s.
“There’s a space now for everyone to focus on cricket and what happens on the field. It was a tough time for the team, players and management, but I think we handled it as well as we could.
“Going back over the months, the conversations and discussions we had were to make sure that guys are mentally in the right space.
‘There weren’t any underlying issues and differences between players and management, which helped us to deal with the situation that was at hand.
“As players, we welcome the fact that we can now focus on cricket and invest as much energy into that. At least for now.”
Chance of another controversy
That last statement did raise some eyebrows. “At least for now?” Is there something brewing? Or was it just experience speaking? Bavuma knows the chance of another controversy is probable.
For the moment Bavuma is happy that peace between CSA and Boucher has broken out, but he’s too jaded to believe another problem isn’t far off. If there has been one consistency in South African cricket in recent times, it’s the ability to shoot itself in the foot.
In January, in the midst of a tense One-Day International home series against India, CSA decided to publicise its decision to charge Boucher.
That was just a few months after CSA ordered the team to “take the knee” to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement before their second match at the T20 World Cup against the West Indies last year.
That led to Quinton de Kock refusing and withdrawing from the game. Naturally, in both cases, cricket became a secondary topic of discussion.
In both instances, however, Bavuma was left to face the media and provide explanations for issues not of his making. He handled it with grace, empathy and intelligence, but he wouldn’t have chosen to be there.
Building experience and character
So, to India for a tough challenge which is a crucial part of the Proteas’ preparations for the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
Although the conditions the Proteas will encounter in India will be vastly different to those in Australia at the World Cup, the chance to compete against India in their home will build experience and character.
India have chosen to rest key players such as star batter Virat Kohli and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah for the series. Both played and struggled, by their high standards, in the recently completed Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 tournament.
But they are loaded with talent and experience. KL Rahul, second highest scorer in the IPL with 616 runs in 15 innings, averaging 51.33 at a strike rate in excess of 135, will captain India.
Injuries to quality performers such as Ravindra Jadeja and Suryakumar Yadav undermine India’s cause, but their production line of talent in the T20 format, thanks to the IPL, is almost endless.
Gujarat Titans skipper Hardik Pandya, who led his team to the 2022 IPL title in its inaugural season, is a fine leader and batter. He was fourth on the overall run-scoring table (487) and has earned a recall. Others in the 2022 IPL batting top 20, such as Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer, should also feature.
In the bowling unit, the express pacer Umran Malik is set to be unleashed, and top IPL wicket-taker, leg-break bowler Yuzvendra Chahal, is also in the squad.
On the other side of the ledger, De Kock and David Miller were in excellent form with the bat in the IPL while stalwart fast bowler Kagiso Rabada was near third on the wicket-taking charts.
Miller played crucial innings for Gujarat, including a brisk 32 not-out in the final, on his way to 481 runs at an average of 68.71 and a strike rate of 142.72. That was by some distance the highest average at the IPL, thanks to nine not-outs. The stats show left-handed Miller was able to come in midway through the innings and carry his bat to the end.
It’s a role the Proteas would do well to reprise against India in Delhi on 9 June.
“The confidence he [Miller] will bring into the team, we look forward to that,” Bavuma said. “He has performed exceedingly well at the IPL and I’m sure that will do a world of good for his confidence.
“He understands where he fits in within the team. There is no way we are going to stifle him or restrict David in any manner. That’s how we try to treat all the players.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.