Johannesburg — When Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma were made captains of South Africa’s Test and Limited overs teams respectively a year ago, it provided the first inkling of clarity for the men’s national team since the 2019 World Cup had ended.
The last few weeks have witnessed the very best of them, as captains, batters and people. They are different personalities, but share similar outlooks on certain aspects; they are hard as nails and demanding of themselves as individuals and the players under their leadership.
The complete disintegration of Cricket SA’s administration had negatively impacted on the Proteas — still the most important asset for the sport in this country. Even after the appointments of Graeme Smith as Director of Cricket and Mark Boucher as head coach, the team still searched for an identity. Faf du Plessis called time on his Test career and then Quinton de Kock was wrongly handed the captaincy across formats.
In difficult times the teams needed direction and stability, and Elgar and Bavuma appointments provided that. What neither would have been prepared for, were the off-field challenges.
Starting with Elgar in the West Indies and the decision to leave whether to kneel or not, as a show of support for the Black Lives Matter, up to the players as individuals. The knock-on effect of that in-decision had to be dealt with by Bavuma a few months later in the T20 World Cup.
More troubling events unfolded as it related to Boucher, who was named in the Social Justice and Nation Building report, and was then informed he’d be charged with ‘gross misconduct’ for which CSA is seeking his dismissal in the middle of a tough One-Day series with India.
Through all of that, both were dealing with a developing team that in the last few weeks faced a powerful and confident India side, hell-bent on creating history on these shores.
Neither captain flinched. Elgar played one of the great Test innings by a Proteas batter in the second Test, finishing with 96 not out to anchor his team’s improbable fourth innings run chase. Bavuma continued the consistent output he first showed in Pakistan last year, finishing as South Africa’s third highest run-scorer in the Test series, and hitting the winning runs in the process.
What both were clear about, was demanding the players show toughness, leave aside the off-field dramas, and prove that while South Africa may not have been laden with star players like India, that by implementing the fundamentals they could put the visitors under pressure.
Maybe they didn’t surprise themselves, but the Proteas certainly shocked viewers, critics and their opponents. They absorbed the pressure dished out by the Indians and then applied some of their own, with Elgar — somewhat cheekily — making it public that he felt India didn’t cope well in Johannesburg. That actually turned out to be the case in Cape Town, with the tourists feeling like the whole country was against them.
Bavuma drew on the momentum from that stunning Test series upset, and like Elgar did at the Wanderers, he led from the front in Paarl. Perhaps the most pleasing feature of Bavuma’s performance was his tactical acumen, which was needed in a series where he was without Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje.
His use of his spinners in conditions with which India are more familiar bodes well for next year’s World Cup, which will be held in that country. South Africa didn’t play its best cricket in the series. The fielding remains inconsistent, and they may want to fiddle a bit more with the batting and add some depth in the order. Thankfully there is time to do that.
What the series’s against India showed was that South African cricket may just be emerging from the doom the sport’s administrators shoved it into over the last few years. It’s again taken the players to create an optimistic outlook. Importantly there was the right leadership on and off the field from Elgar and Bavuma to provide the guidance.