The South African men’s team was in deep trouble as recently as last Friday. Their pain from the Test series defeat in Australia was fresh, and the less said about the embarrassing end to their T20 World Cup campaign, the better. As if to rub it in, the SA20 arrived in a dazzle of publicity and joy to show South Africa how meaningful cricket can be when quality players perform properly.
England, who were in town to play three World Cup Super League games, loomed ominously. They were without Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood for various reasons, while Jofra Archer will use the series to come back from a long lay-off. But given that South Africa had lost five of their 11 completed one-dayers last year, including their first ever series loss at home in any format by Bangladesh, alarm bells have rung. Especially with direct qualification for this year’s ODI World Cup. A week on and the scenario couldn’t be more different.
Perhaps because Bloemfontein and Kimberley are not on the regular international circuit – South Africa last played there in March 2020 and September 2018 – the crowds were larger. Or is it because both grounds are hundreds of kilometers from the nearest SA20 site? Getting turned out to watch South Africa was the closest the fans got to the excitement they were passing on.
He was rewarded with five centuries, including two of the five highest individual innings made in Kimberley, and three four-wicket hauls amid Archer’s 6/40 on Wednesday – the best bowling performance in a Kimberley ODI. He saw a record chase at Bloemfontein and the highest ever total at Kimberley. Better yet, they saw some of the best ODI cricket South Africa have played in years to win the first two matches and maintain their competitive edge in the dead rubber.
The first series under the new coaching regime of Shukri Konrad and Rob Walter was a resounding success. Not only that Temba Bavuma, whose match-winning 109 on Sunday clinched the rubber, wavered when a question at a press conference on Wednesday turned to flat pitches and flatter bowling: “Maybe it Speaks volumes about the quality of the batting that was on display.Maybe that can be appreciated more than the targeting of the bowlers.
Of the 17 bowlers used in the rubber, only Kagiso Rabada, Olly Stone and Sam Curran conceded less than a run-a-ball. But Bavuma is right, at least not from the perspective of a South African team that has long been short of skill and confidence. “It’s really becoming very clear when we talk about players going out and expressing themselves and taking the game forward,” Bavuma said. We lost today but, in terms of the required run rate, we were equal. It’s a big advantage for us as a team. The more we chase down scores, the more we have that belief and start solidifying how we want to play.”
Before the last two matches, a measure could be taken to strengthen these views in the toss. Not only was Sisanda Magala – whose 3/46 had turned the first game in South Africa’s favor – was dropped for the second, so was Rabada. Rabada was also ruled out of the third match along with Anrich Nortje.
Gone are the days when South Africa would not dare the key players to clean sweep a series or line up, especially not with significant points at stake. But it appears progress is being made, although Bavuma cautioned that “it’s only three games in; the journey is still long” while admitting “it’s more than a mindset change; the skill has always been there”.
The South African captain, his team’s top run-scorer in the series, was the best advertisement for a different approach. He said, “It’s been enjoyable, not playing like you have a whole team on your shoulders – just going out there, watching the ball and trying to score.”
“If, as a player, you are looking for the security that if you fail someone will continue to support you, I have never felt that way. It is part of international cricket. But, at the moment in our team If you play a certain way people are going to give you the ropes you deserve.
“I feel like a different Temba came out and showed in the last three games. I will take the confidence from these games and try and make sure that flows into all the other games and formats.”
Bavuma learned after that press conference that he had been signed by Sunrisers Eastern Cape for the remainder of the SA20. If Tom Abel hadn’t left the SEC early to captain the England Lions in Sri Lanka, he might not have had a gig to land, Bavuma might not have lost his shine and finally made it to the biggest party in cricket . It was as if he had passed an exam, proved his point, won a promotion.