Indian silver gleams for South Africa

“The confidence that he will bring into the team, we look forward to that.” – Temba Bavuma on David Miller.

Telford Vice | Cape Town

EIGHT trophies gleamed behind Temba Bavuma during an online press conference on Tuesday that was conducted from the Wanderers, home of the Lions in South Africa’s domestic competitions. This was no gratuitous display of unearned accolades: Bavuma has been instrumental in winning those prizes.

He played in the Lions’ successful first-class campaigns in 2014/15, 2018/19 — when he captained them — and 2019/20. Bavuma was also part of the Lions’ teams who won the list A title in 2012/13 and 2015/16, and the T20 version in 2012/13, 2018/19 and 2020/21. He led them in the last two of the latter, and scored a century in the 2018/19 final.

Small wonder that, as Bavuma entered the room on Tuesday, he allowed himself a smug smile and made reference to all that sparkling silverware. He will hope to make a similar deposit in a different trophy cabinet in the coming weeks.

Bavuma will lead South Africa in the five T20Is they will play in India from next Thursday to June 19. The South Africans have won and drawn their only two bilateral series in the format in India — in October 2015 and September 2018 — and are no doubt eyeing another victory. With Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah rested for the series, and Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar and Suryakumar Yadav out because of injuries, the home side would seem ripe for the beating. Bavuma might want to schedule a detour to CSA’s offices — less than three kilometres from the Wanderers — to drop off the trophy on his way home from India.

If only beating India in India was that simple. KL Rahul, who will captain the home side in Sharma’s absence, was the second-highest runscorer in this year’s IPL, which ended on Sunday with Gujarat Titans beating Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets in the final in Ahmedabad. Hardik Pandya, who turned in an exemplary performance as a captain and a player to engineer Gujarat’s triumph in their first bite at the biggest cherry in cricket, is also in India’s squad. As is Yuzvendra Chahal, the tournament’s top wicket-taker.

Bavuma knows his opponents will not go quietly, even without some of their most prominent players. “Even though India are resting their main players, it will still be a competitive series,” he said. “The guys in that squad can walk into the Indian team.” 

South Africa are not giving their stars a break. David Miller, a vital cog in the Gujarat machine, will be in action. As will Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada, who were third among the IPL’s leading run-scorers and wicket-takers. 

Miller had his best IPL yet with 481 runs in 16 innings. He is the subject of an enduring subplot in South African cricket discourse that says he has either not lived up to his potential in an international shirt or not been given enough opportunities to shine for the national team.

Gujarat, this theory goes, got the best out of Miller by entrusting him with more responsibility. There is evidence for this argument in the fact that Miller batted at No. 5 in 13 of his innings for Gujarat. That’s in 86.67% of his trips to the crease for them. In his 83 T20I innings for South Africa, Miller has batted at No. 5 only 34 times: 40.96%. Or less than half as often as he filled that position for Gujarat.

Bavuma brings intelligence and sensitivity to the delicate business of captaincy, attributes that could be important in the cause of keeping Miller’s form flaming. “The confidence that he will bring into the team, we look forward to that,” Bavuma said of the lusty left-hander. “He has performed exceedingly well at the IPL and I’m sure that will do a world of good for his confidence and whatever feelings of insecurity that might be there. The conversations that I have had with David, he has never expressed those types of feelings to me.

“David is still an integral member within our team and we trust his performances will continue well into the future. In terms of him batting a bit longer, that has always been the conversation over the years when David has done well. He understands where he fits in within the team. If he feels he can add more value in a different position, a conversation can be had in that regard. There is no way we are going to stifle him or restrict David in any manner. That’s how we try to treat all the players. We try to set them up in positions where they can succeed and make strong plays for the team.”

That 17 players made more runs in the IPL than Aiden Markram, who scored 381 in a dozen innings for Sunrisers Hyderabad, might not seem worth noting. But it is in light of the fact that, in the same number of innings across the formats for South Africa before he went to the tournament, Markram made just 191 runs. Or just more than half his aggregate at the IPL, which may have given him his game back just in time for the T20I series.

But Dewald Brevis, who celebrated his 19th birthday during the IPL and scored 161 runs in seven innings for Mumbai Indians, is not in the squad. Bavuma wasn’t fussed by that: “In all fairness to him, he hasn’t played a first-class game. In terms of expectation but also to allow the boy to grow within his game, it would be fair to allow him to play a couple of first-class games where he can really get an understanding of his game. It will be a lot of pressure to throw him into the international set-up and expect him to make plays. He will be treated like any other exciting young prospect who comes onto the scene. He should be given time and space to hone his game within the system and ease into the international side of things.”

Several of the other players Bavuma will have at his disposal in India will be raring to go, having spent much of the IPL on the bench. Marco Jansen featured in eight games, Anrich Nortjé and Dwaine Pretorius in six each, Rassie van der Dussen in three, Tristan Stubbs in two, and Lungi Ngidi in none at all. Bavuma, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Wayne Parnell and Tabraiz Shamsi — the members of the squad who were not at the IPL — haven’t picked up a bat or ball in anger since April or May.

“From a mental point of view, in terms of wanting to play, I don’t think we will be falling short,” Bavuma said. “As a professional cricketer, you have to find a way to mentally, physically get yourself into the right space to be able to perform. Those guys who went to the IPL and didn’t get much opportunity to play will maybe want to prove something.”

Something that says they know what to do to put another trophy in the cabinet.

First published by Cricbuzz.

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Indian silver gleams for South Africa