Temba Bavuma will not be drawn into making an “emotional” decision about his future as T20I captain and will only consider his options once the dust has settled on a disappointing World Cup campaign. This is the second tournament under his watch in which South Africa have failed to qualify for the knockouts and the last under coach Mark Boucher, who has resigned to join Mumbai Indians, and change may be afoot with South Africa set to split the red and white-ball coaching roles in future.
“It’s been a tricky time,” an emotional Bavuma said after the shock defeat to Netherlands. “To be considering that now, a lot of it will be emotional, in terms of my role as captain within the team. It’s something I will think about. I will speak to the relevant people. We have to see who comes in as a coach. Generally when you have changes like that, they might come in with a different style. They might find a different leader to execute whatever vision or style of play that they have. It will be emotional now if I think about all of that.”
Bavuma’s leadership – as someone who took over during a captaincy vacuum and then held the team together after a board directive to take knee at last year’s tournament led to Quinton de Kock sitting out a crucial game – has long been lauded as exemplary but his ability as a T20 player, less so. Bavuma has 635 T20I runs to his name, at an average of 22.67 and a strike rate of 116.08. Going into this tournament, he had scored 11 runs in four white-ball innings – including two ducks – following a three-month layoff with an elbow injury. In his absence, Reeza Hendricks had reeled off four consecutive fifties on South Africa’s tour of the UK but sat out once Bavuma returned amid a chorus of questions over his form. He managed only 14 runs in three innings this tournament before a 19-ball 36 against Pakistan, a match South Africa lost, and then 20 off 20 today.
Throughout, Bavuma was acutely aware of the noise around him and admitted it affected him. “Mentally, it does eat at you as a player,” Bavuma said. “You try to manage your mental space as much as you can. You try to control what gets to you but with social media, whatever is being said out there always gets to you,” he said. “I always try to keep a level head, through all the good and the bad times. I try to be as close to myself as possible. Not just for myself but for this group. We are going to take a lot of flack as a group and rightly so.”
Bavuma expects criticism over his decision to bowl first on a surface where chasing always appeared tricky but believed his attack had enough firepower to justify that decision. “When you make a decision like that, you expect us to put them under pressure with the ball. We didn’t do that,” he said.
“Mentally, it does eat at you as a player. You try to manage your mental space as much as you can. You try to control what gets to you but with social media, whatever is being said out there always gets to you.”
Temba Bavuma on the criticism around his form
He also expects criticism over the way South Africa approached the chase, with a distinct lack of energy, and he accepts something was amiss. “We still had the responsibility with the bat and we just couldn’t get any type of momentum or flow to our innings. We couldn’t adapt to the slow nature of the wicket.” Bavuma said. “You can pick at a lot of things. It’s disappointing for all of us.”
And even though he expects South Africa to continue to be labelled chokers, Bavuma maintains that South Africa did not take their position as group leaders at one stage, having already gone through all their so-called tough games, for granted. “I wouldn’t say I felt a different type of pressure [playing Netherlands compared to the other games]. We knew we had to win the game and we didn’t win the game. We played against India and we knew we had to win that game and we won that game. What was different then, I don’t know.”
He also doesn’t know what next for the South African T20 side and doesn’t have to think about it for several months. South Africa’s next assignment is a three-Test series against Australia, where Malibongwe Maketa has been named interim coach and Bavuma will slip back into the vice-captaincy role. Their next white-ball games are World Cup Super League ODIs in late January against England, which are virtual must-wins if they hope to secure direct entry into next year’s fifty-over World Cup. If they don’t, they will go through a qualifying tournament in June. It’s all pressure from here on and Bavuma knows that. “I am going to have to try and find a way to bounce back. We are going to have to find a way to bounce back, and try to get back to the good old days,” he said.
Whether he will be the one to lead them there, may not be up to him at all but, “whatever happens, I think I carried myself with dignity,” he said. “Through all the good and bad times and, if I were to leave, I would leave with my pride intact.”
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