The thumb is “obviously not 100% at the moment but I am building it up,” he says at team’s departure press interaction
Temba Bavuma is on track to leading South Africa at the T20 World Cup later this month. Bavuma, who broke his thumb in Sri Lanka last month, is four weeks post-surgery and is back in the nets. He is expected to be fully fit for the team’s first warm-up match, against Afghanistan on October 18.
“I started batting a bit yesterday just to feel it out,” Bavuma said during the team’s departure press conference. “According to the medical team, everything is still on schedule. I am quite happy with where it’s at. It’s obviously not 100% at the moment but I am building it up and everyone is happy with the progress thus far.”
If all goes as planned, Bavuma will be ready, not only to lead South Africa in a major tournament for the first time, but to make his first appearance in a global event. The sense of occasion has not escaped him. “Looking at the position I am in, I acknowledge the responsibility when leaving South African shores and knowing what I am responsible for,” he said. “And the thinking that when you come back from South Africa, things could be different; your life could be different.
“From a team point of view, it’s excitement and the anxiety of experiencing something you haven’t come across. But I think it’s more excitement at the moment.”
South Africa go into the tournament ranked fifth on the ICC charts and on the back of three successive T20I series wins, over West Indies, Ireland and Sri Lanka. Bavuma missed the last of those entirely after he was injured in the ODIs but kept a close eye on proceedings from home. “It was frustrating being on the side, but as much as I was on the side, I was quite engaged with the team,” he said. “I had conversations with the coach and Keshav (Maharaj, the stand-in captain), just to get to their thinking, their understanding and sharing my own ideas. I was more involved than I normally would be if I was on the side.”
“I don’t harp on a lot about being a black African but it is quite significant, from all angles. You talk about extra pressure, thinking about it now, it adds onto the pressure that is already there”
He was particularly pleased with South Africa’s professionalism in sweeping a struggling Sri Lankan side 3-0. “It wasn’t so much the victories but just the way they went about their business. They were super clinical with the bat and with the ball, they were very, very ruthless.’
Despite those results, South Africa’s inconsistent form across all formats, and the administrative upheaval over the last two years, means that not many expect them to get out of the group stage at the T20 World Cup – they are grouped with Australia, England, West Indies and two qualifiers – and Bavuma knows it. On the one hand, the absence of any great expectations may take the pressure off, but on the other, Bavuma’s role as the first black African captain and the weight that comes with adds another layer to the burden he carries.
“I don’t harp on a lot about being a black African but it is quite significant, from all angles. You talk about extra pressure, thinking about it now, it adds onto the pressure that is already there,” he said. “But it’s also a privilege that I believe I’ve been blessed to have. If the opportunity is there, and the team plays accordingly, we’d like to do something special for the country.”
This is the kind of language used by another black African captain, the Springboks’ Siya Kolisi, who led the team to victory at the 2019 World Cup, to a series win over the British and Irish Lions this winter, and back to the top of the world rugby rankings with a 31-29 triumph over New Zealand’s All Blacks yesterday. Kolisi and Bavuma share aspects of identity and a managing agency, Roc Nation, and Bavuma hopes to draw inspiration from Kolisi as South Africa head to the T20 World Cup.
“Theres a lot of inspiration we can take from the Springboks. That fight that they have and the resilience they’ve showed over the years, it’s something that we admire. As the Proteas, we bank on our resilience,” Bavuma said. “I will touch base with him (Kolisi) over the next couple of days when things are settled, especially on his side.
“It’s sometimes a bit bitter when you don’t know what to expect. You allow yourself to rely on hope or faith – whatever you want to call it. I don’t want to play it too much in my head. I believe I have done all I can to hold myself in the coming moments. I really don’t think I should be trying new things or trying to bring out a different Temba or a different version of myself. As I’ve always done, especially of late, it’s just to take things day by day and trust things will look after themselves, if I do the right things.”
South Africa will arrive in the UAE at midnight and begin a six-day quarantine before being allowed to train. The seven members of the squad who are at the IPL will join up with them when they are freed up from that tournament, being played in the UAE too. South Africa play the opening match of the Super 12 phase of T20 World Cup, against Australia, on October 23.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent