More pain for Temba Bavuma after another Proteas World Cup exit
Temba Bavuma and Rob Walter shared a warm embrace moments after South Africa was eliminated from the 2023 World Cup by Australia on Thursday night.
Walter then put a hand on both the Proteas captain’s shoulders.
“Firstly I told him how proud I am of him,” said the Proteas coach.
The two have rapidly built a bond since Walter’s appointment in February.
They talk for hours.
At every training session, before the start of play, after play, obviously in team meetings, golf days and undoubtedly on the phone.
“Coach loves a chat,” Bavuma chirped at the Cricket South Africa (CSA) Awards in the middle of the year.
Thursday’s was a touching exchange between the pair.
A coach who understood that his captain, under pressure for virtually all of this World Cup, pressure which only intensified in the days leading up to the semifinal, needed reminding, that even in the moment of greatest disappointment, what value he’d provided for his team.
Walter felt Bavuma’s captaincy - in combination with the leadership core - provided opportunities despite an inadequate total - of 213 - to defend.
“The different pressures created through the fielding positions. I thought it was an excellent effort to defend that score,” said Walter.
“But beyond that sometimes it’s not easy to walk through a tournament when you aren't delivering yourself but the batters around you are.”
That’s the part that will haunt Bavuma.
The rest of the top six all made hundreds in the past five weeks.
Bavuma finished the World Cup with an aggregate of 145 runs in eight innings.
“He was the lead man who got us into this tournament in the first place. I think people forget that. I wanted to make sure that he was aware of how important he is in this team and how proud I am of his efforts and the way he led throughout the tournament,” said Walter.
Bavuma was South Africa’s leading run-scorer in ODIs in 17 matches played over the past 18 months prior to the tournament.
He scored 868 runs at an average of 57.86, with four of his five hundreds made in that period.
As captain he was always going to be given extra latitude.
The days building up to the semifinal were dominated by speculation about his physical readiness and his frank remark that he wasn’t 100% fit after suffering a hamstring strain last week, understandably, caused controversy.
“If you looked at him in the field and if you didn't know that he wasn't 100%, you wouldn't have guessed,” said Walter.
It was the fielding element that concerned the Proteas training staff, not his ability to run between the wickets.
As it was, fitness had nothing to do with his dismissal, just an excellent delivery from Mitchell Starc that carried on with the angle across Bavuma and found the edge.
He looked nervous during his four-ball stay at the crease, but even that’s understandable, given the occasion. It was a lame push at the ball which led to his dismissal, but that had more to do with a lack of confidence than a dodgy hamstring.
When it came to weighing up the impact the injury could have on Bavuma’s performance in the field against his captaincy, Walter said the choice was easy.
“Having his leadership and his presence on the field is everything. We spoke about it. He said ‘I'm not 100% but I can definitely play and I want to be on the park.’
“And that's the end of the discussion. I back him 100%.”
It was the same for Bavuma’s teammates.
“He got through the game,” said David Miller.
“He did his fitness test, he felt fine (though) he wasn’t 100%.
“The leader he is, he has stood up in the past year and a half, his performances have shown that. Unfortunately tonight he didn’t get the runs he wanted. To have the leader there is always important.
“Everyone gravitated towards that, we pulled in. He was fit to play in our eyes and did a great job,” Miller said.
Debates will rage for years about whether Bavuma should have played and certainly from a fitness perspective, CSA needs to establish some sort of clear policy around what constitutes someone’s readiness for a match.
In the short term for Bavuma personally, the outcome on Thursday will cause him more pain than any member of the squad.
He will feel responsible for not contributing with the bat on the biggest stage while others did.
There will be satisfaction at the team going further than many had forecast and there won’t be as much anguish as last year’s T20 World Cup.
But for Bavuma, the disappointment will sit with him for years.
He got close, but no closer than any other South African captain to winning a world title.
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