Barefoot Bavuma seeks to start Proteas legacy that Australia have long owned
One semifinal, two captains. One knows a legacy in which success is a given. The other is trying to give the sport in his country a lift, while cementing a personal legacy that will elevate him into a position no other South African captain has occupied.
Temba Bavuma and Pat Cummins view the topic of cricketing legacy from those different perspectives ahead of Thursday’s 2023 Cricket World Cup semifinal in Kolkata.
Cummins can call up Allan Border, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Michael Clarke to ask, “What’s it like to play an ODI World Cup final?”. To lead a team in one. To win one — or in Ponting’s case, two.
“Yeah, pretty awesome,” Cummins smiled as he briefly reflected on Australia’s World Cup history. “You look back at some of the great Aussie sides and see that they’ve won the World Cup — it’s what drives you to win World Cups.”
The Proteas are equally as driven, it’s just that Bavuma has no-one to look to. Heck, no South African captain has succeeded at what he is attempting to do on Thursday — win a semifinal.
There’s the team’s ambition, Bavuma’s personal desire and then of course the social element. A black African man captaining his country at a World Cup successfully — only one dude knows what that is like and the ball he plays with is bigger and less round.
Bavuma said leading the Proteas onto Eden Gardens on Thursday means a lot, but he doesn’t want the occasion to get bigger than it needs to be.
“I’ve tried not to really allow myself to get into that space. You obviously want to treat it as just another game,” he said.
“It’s something I’ll savour in that moment. With that opportunity, I know it will mean a lot for the family and people back home. And obviously it would be nice to be having another press conference with you guys on November 18 [Saturday, the day before Sunday’s final].”
Unlike Cummins, there is no-one Bavuma can turn to, even for a smidgen of advice, about handling the occasion. There’s not much World Cup semifinal playing experience in the squad — only Quinton de Kock and David Miller know what that is like, and the outcome in Auckland left a great generation of Proteas sobbing on the Eden Park outfield.
Cummins can casually state: “I think what helps us is that we’ve got a lot of guys who have been in this situation before, who have won a one-day World Cup, T20 World Cup and various other tournaments. In big moments, you can draw on that in the middle of the contest.”
Bavuma, to his credit, was forthright about being nervous, and that players have been open about their apprehension ahead of one of the most important matches of their careers.
“There’s been an acknowledgment of the emotions. I don’t think you can deny or run away from that, but there’s also been solutions or mechanisms that have been given, as to how to deal with that anxiety if you feel it overwhelms you.”
There’s a sense of calmness within the team and obviously the normal level of anxiety that you would expect going into the game.Temba Bavuma
Tactically the conversations are easier. Bavuma and Cummins believe the Eden Gardens surface will assist the spinners.
South Africa have been very good about sweeping away the clutter. The players and coaching staff have been unequivocal in their support of Bavuma, their batting strategy is clear, they have bowled precisely and the fielding has been efficient.
Despite Quinton de Kock’s success at the top of the order, they are not a team dependent on one player. They may not have Australia’s legacy, but they have supreme belief in one another. “There’s a sense of calmness within the team and obviously the normal level of anxiety that you would expect going into the game,” Bavuma said.
South Africa may have years of history against them, but at this tournament, only India have performed better. “I think from our performances, from the processes that we’ve followed to get to this point, we’ll continue to lean on that and we believe that will take care of the result,” said Bavuma.
At South Africa’s optional training session on Wednesday, Bavuma did a short shadow batting stint on the pitch sans shoes or socks. Barefoot he went through his shots — a drive, a flick off the legs, a pull — never mind visualising the occasion, he wanted to feel the stage on which it will take place.
About the pressure of a semifinal he said straightforwardly: “I mean, the pressure will always be there. You have to go out there and deal with it.”
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