Bavuma leads from the front as South African cricket deals with on and off-field issues

On Tuesday, at the T20 World Cup, Temba Bavuma faced his first litmus test, one that had to do with the kind of leader South Africa needs him to be moulded into.

Temba Bavuma...“Me, being the leader of the side at the moment, is to make sure our eye is on the ball.”   -  REUTERS

South Africa cricket has endured a tough year off the field. In April, sports minister Nathi Mthethwa had threatened to strip CSA of its status as the game’s national governing body — seen as critical to tackling corruption. Such a move would have left the country unable to play international matches, at least for a while. But the CSA members’ council unanimously agreed to amend the organisation’s memorandum of incorporation (MOI) to develop a framework for a majority independent board, which prevented the game from being derecognised and defunded.

But this crisis appeared as a mere forerunner to the big one that emerged a few months later. There were allegations of racism being levelled by former black players against their white team-mates, and CSA’s Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings are still being conducted to investigate the full extent of racial discrimination in South African cricket.

It is against this tumultuous backdrop that Temba Bavuma became the first black African batter to captain the national team. The 31-year-old leads South Africa at its seventh men’s ICC Twenty20 World Cup. Bavuma is already the first black African batter to play Test cricket for South Africa and the first to score a Test century.

On Tuesday, Bavuma faced his first litmus test, one that had nothing to do with his captaincy skills on the field and everything to do with the kind of leader South Africa needs him to be moulded into. Ahead of the Super 12 match against the West Indies, wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock made himself unavailable after refusing to take the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. CSA had issued a directive before the match that all players mandatorily needed to make the gesture.

South Africa eventually beat West Indies by eight wickets to claim its first win of the tournament, but de Kock’s withdrawal meant there was a storm brewing and some big and exacting questions had to be answered. Bavuma stepped up to the task and fronted the media, exuding calm assurance, honesty and integrity in each response.

“As much as you have the choice to decide what you want to do, you can’t escape the consequences of the choices and decisions we make,” Bavuma said of de Kock’s decision. “If there are people out there who think certain people need more clarity, then the fans, the media, it’s best that you ask those guys directly. It becomes blurry when you are asking guys about other guys. If you are really wanting to get the clarity that you seem to want, you should probably ask those individuals themselves.”

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He described the match as “probably one of the toughest days I’ve had to deal with as a captain, as a leader of the team,” but insisted that “we have to keep focusing as much as we can on the team, particularly matters on the field. We will lose a lot of energy as players if we start giving 100 percent to everything being discussed outside of the team. At the end of the day, you are going to judge us on how well we bowled a ball or how we hit a ball. I don’t think you will be looking at the fact that we were martyrs or we stood for whatever cause. Me, being the leader of the side at the moment, is to make sure our eye is on the ball.”

By the time the barrage of questions ebbed, Bavuma had already demonstrated leadership with responsibility — the kind his team desperately needs at this hour. Lifting the World Cup against all odds will be a welcome boost. But the diminutive Bavuma grew in stature on Tuesday, hopefully, his troops will follow.


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