Settled Davids makes late run
Henry Davids Snr was playing cricket for Coronation Cricket Club in the small town of Pniel, best known for its proximity to the wine estate Boschendal, when his wife went into labour. By the time news from the hospital reached the ground, it was too late.
"My dad actually missed my birth because he was on the cricket field. That was probably a sign in a way," Henry Davids tells ESPNcricinfo. An indicator that Davids would take in interest in the game? Perhaps. But an omen that he would go on to become an international cricketer? Few in his family or community would have believed that.
For the 2500 people who live in Pniel, life could sometimes be small. "Everybody was very work-oriented," Davids says. Everybody that was an adult, that was. Young children played sport at schools that were not in the same league as the establishment heavyweights, whose pupils were sometimes chosen for representative honours on reputation alone. "Sometimes at the bigger sporting schools their players would get higher honours," he says. Still, the small-town kids played as hard as they could and enjoyed every minute of it.
Rugby was the big sport in Pniel but cricket was not too far behind. Davids started playing when he was six years old. He took part in primary school and then at Stellenbosch High, where he was selected for the Under-17 provincial trials. There Davids was picked for the Country Districts team and could take sport a little more seriously.
He also had someone to look up to. Henry Williams (before the match-fixing scandal of 2000) was a popular, successful member of the community and a good friend of Davids' father. "Him and my dad used to do a bit of pigeon racing together and he used to try and guide me with my cricket. It was at that time of growing up when I was stubborn and didn't want to listen to people because I thought I knew everything."
At some point Davids paid attention, though, and he spent a few seasons playing for the provincial team, Boland. But he never quite made it. Three years ago, when contract negotiations broke down, he decided he needed a change.
"I just thought it was time for a new challenge. I had a few offers but I chose to go to the Titans because of the sporting history they have there, and I also knew a couple of the guys. I thought it would be the best place to become a better cricketer" he said. With the Titans being the most successful franchise in the current system, that was not something many would argue with. Davids left his family behind in Pniel and moved.
He bubbled under in his first summer up north but got noticed the next season when a new coach took over. Matthew Maynard has been credited with the success of Faf du Plessis in first-class cricket, some of Morne Morkel's new-found control, and now Davids' batting. "Matthew really helped my game. I think it was because he understands me as a person. He is also very calm, which works well for me because I'm a pretty chilled person."
The most important lesson for Davids was patience, which Maynard, in his relaxed way, teaches well. "In the past, I thought my role was to go out there and to have a 150 or 200 strike rate, so that's where inconsistency came from" he said. "Last season I decided to work with the coach to take a little bit of time instead. I know that, with the way I bat, I can catch up in the middle, so I concentrated on just hitting my areas. If I knew this five years ago, maybe my career would have been different, but I am happy with where I am at the moment."
When the season began, Davids was announced as the new Titans captain, to take over in first-class matches after the Champions League Twenty20. Maynard said he saw leadership potential in Davids and the maturity he had shown over the past summer was evidence of that. First there was a major tournament to consider, and Davids repaid Maynard's faith in him by making himself one of the batsmen to watch.
He scored 162 runs in the five matches he played, which included two half-centuries. The first came in the opener, against the Perth Scorchers, and was worth noting despite being almost overshadowed by Jacques Rudolph's 83. Davids gave himself time to settle in before bringing out the shimmy down the pitch, the drive through the covers and the flamboyant flick.
He followed up with a strong showing in the domestic one-day cup, where he ended as the third-highest run-scorer, with 450 runs at an average of 40.90, which included a massive 166 against the Knights. It was an innings of panache and power and it helped Davids leapfrog his way up the South Africa pecking order. "I made a bit of a mental change and I am more in control of my game now," he says.
By the time South Africa were due to name their new-look T20 squad, it seemed obvious Davids would be in it. Sheer weight of runs had forced him there. He got the phone call on his mobile while he was talking to his mother on the landline and she heard the news as it was told to him. "Five minutes later all my friends from home were sending me messages. My mom told the person next door and it spread like a veld fire.
"It was very overwhelming and a great honour. It was also very humbling when people tell me they are proud of me and what I have achieved."
He will probably open the batting with Richard Levi for the three-match T20 series against New Zealand. At 32, Davids will be one of the older debutants but he believes the best years lie ahead and hopes to have half a decade of cricket left in him. His week with the national side so far has told him where he wants to spend most of that time. "I am not putting any pressure on myself but I really want to be involved with the national team."
That will require a strong showing in this series. Davids is hopeful the format will give him the opportunity to display his talent, especially because he thinks he has now adjusted to its requirements properly. "When T20 first started, the guys went from ball one and there were either very big scores or very low scores. Now guys have adapted very well. They have a look and then play accordingly," he says. "It also makes it a little bit easier to give yourself a couple of balls to get your eye in."
The time has come for Davids to put that into practice and he will have one person on his mind when he does. His father passed away last year, before Davids had earned his call-up. "My mom was crying when that phone call came. She said he would have been so happy and so proud. He always pushed me because he knew what I was capable of. My dad pushed me a lot. It was his dream for me to play for South Africa. He took me all over, to schools matches, cricket weeks and all of that. So I hope he is looking down on me."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent