Bavuma's Relaxed South Africa Presents a Refreshing World Cup Challenge


Bavuma’s Relaxed South Africa Presents a Refreshing World Cup Challenge

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In 2011, The Spin was fortunate to attend the World Cup opening ceremony in Bangladesh, a night filled with music and fireworks at the Bangabandhu. Fast forward to this year in India, where the fanfare has been notably subdued, with the captains quietly gathered in Ahmedabad for a pre-game press conference. The photo that emerged from that conference, featuring Temba Bavuma appearing to doze off in his chair, raised questions about South Africa’s current outlook. While Bavuma attributed it to a camera angle, it hints at a shift in the team’s approach. Unlike their previous campaigns, where they seemed weighed down, South Africa now appears to care less about external pressures and is benefiting from it.

Their performance in their opening match against Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla was proof of this shift. They transformed the flat pitch into a “plunderdome,” amassing a staggering 428 for five, the highest total in a men’s World Cup. Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen, and Aiden Markram each notched centuries, with Markram’s being the fastest in World Cup history, achieved in just 49 balls. This remarkable start suggests that the Proteas, despite some teams moving away from 50-over cricket in recent times, have embraced it. In the past 18 months, their ODI runs have been scored at 6.54 runs per over, and this recent display marked their seventh 300-plus total in 17 innings, with two of those surpassing 400. South Africa seems to have found their rhythm.

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The aftermath of the heartbreaking 2015 semi-final, marred by administrative overreach, had a profound impact. AB de Villiers once confided in me about how it left him shattered. He was caught up in the belief that World Cups define careers, a sentiment that carries significant weight given his stature in the game. However, that shadow has since receded, leaving only two survivors in Quinton de Kock and David Miller. The current lineup appears unburdened.

De Kock, set to turn 31 in December, stands out as the batting talisman, exuding a carefree demeanor. While he has always played with a languid grace, his style remains as smooth as his expressions are solemn. He recently declared his intention to retire from ODIs after this World Cup, fully embracing T20 specialization after stepping away from Tests in late 2021. Having weathered 11 years of South African cricket politics, he now possesses unwavering clarity.

A player with a palindromic name, Aiden Markram, also appears at peace. Once hailed as a top-order prodigy but experiencing a prolonged slump, he has emerged as a formidable middle-order batsman at the age of 29. Rassie van der Dussen has played a pivotal role at No. 3, and Heinrich Klaasen complements Miller in forming a power-hitting middle order. Klaasen’s stunning 83-ball, 174-run blitz against Australia at Centurion last month, which helped reverse a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 triumph, is sure to be remembered when the two teams clash in Lucknow this Thursday.

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Losing Anrich Nortje’s express pace is a setback, but the South African bowling attack remains diverse, led by the enduring brilliance of Kagiso Rabada. On the other end of the experience spectrum is 23-year-old Gerald Coetzee, a fiery fast bowler who is far from polite in his deliveries but appears unfazed by the pressures of the World Cup. In his own words, “My identity doesn’t hinge on cricket, but on who I am as a person, my relationship with God, and my family.”

Neil Manthorp, an astute observer of South African cricket, has noticed a strong camaraderie emerging under the composed leadership of Bavuma, a response to years of turmoil caused by a dysfunctional cricket board. Test cricket, regrettably, has been pushed to the sidelines, but the advent of the SA20 format and lucrative contracts has provided financial stability previously reserved for the elite players.

While these observations may be speculative, they come after just one game in a subcontinental World Cup, where South Africa appears to be lacking a spinner of note, aside from Keshav Maharaj. If they make it to the semi-finals, as Bavuma himself has acknowledged, only winning the entire tournament will silence the oft-repeated “choking” label. If Heinrich Klaasen becomes the man who steers them to victory in the business end of this extended competition, perhaps it will be remembered as the “Heinrich maneuver.”

Setting aside the earlier play on words, it’s evident that South Africa presents a different challenge this time, notably in better shape than Graeme Smith’s broken-down rickshaw from the past.


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