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Feature

Bavuma unfazed by pressure as South Africa look to avoid mistakes from 2021 edition

South Africa captain says he's blocking out the noise from outside on his form and role

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
23-Oct-2022
If South Africa learnt anything from the last Men's T20 World Cup, it's that speed matters. Speed of run scoring, that is.

They missed out on a semi-final spot at last year's event, despite winning four out of five matches (the same number as losing semi-finalists England, losing finalists New Zealand and eventual champions Australia) because their net run rate (NRR) was the third-lowest in their six-team group, and only had themselves to blame.
South Africa bowled Bangladesh out for 84 in their fourth match but took 13.3 overs to chase the target down. Had they scored the runs quicker, they would have given themselves a better chance of advancing. A year later, they're aware that they have to keep an eye on more than just their number of wins, but also the margins of victory.
"You want to try and perform as well as you can but make sure you keep a pulse on that [net] run rate. If there's an opportunity to really win well, [you have to] make sure that you do so," Temba Bavuma, South Africa's captain, said. "We don't want to ease ourselves into the tournament. There's really no time to do that."
Ironically, Bavuma is the player around whom this discussion is most relevant. He is not known for being quick off the blocks and has had a particularly poor 2022. He was injured for three months after hurting his elbow against India and missed South Africa's entire tour of the UK - where they played matches against England and Ireland in preparation for the T20 World Cup - and then was ill in the build-up to this tournament.
As a result, Bavuma has only played seven T20Is this year and scored 64 runs at an average of 10.2 and a strike rate of 82, making it his worst year in the format. In those matches, he has been dismissed in the powerplay five times. Among batters in the top ten teams, Bavuma's strike rate in the powerplay is the second-worst (96) and he is second on the list of most balls faced per boundary (8.8). Only Sri Lanka's Avishka Fernando has worse numbers (powerplay strike rate of 92, ball-per-boundary ratio of 9).
Those numbers look even worse when one considers that Bavuma is not South Africa's only opening option. Reeza Hendricks, who batted in his place on the England tour, has had his best year in T20Is. Hendricks has scored 323 runs in seven innings, including four successive fifties, at 46.14 with a strike rate of 139.82. But there is only room for one of Bavuma or Hendricks in the XI, with the other top-three spots occupied by Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw. Bavuma, by virtue of being captain, is always going to play ahead of Hendricks and, therefore, the expectation on him to perform is ever greater.
Asked if he is aware of the discussions around himself and Hendricks and the debates on team combination, Bavuma indicated he has distanced himself from opinion outside the team environment and is concentrating on his own game.
"I'm aware of conversations that are happening in my head, regarding my game plan and how I am going to go about leading the team. I'm not aware of what's happening outside," Bavuma said. "In terms of the team, there won't be any surprises - at least to the guys in the team. We know what we're going to do, we know how we're going to do it and we're all quite comfortable around all of that. That's where my focus is with the guys in the team. Anything else, that's for other ears."
Still, the pressure on Bavuma is ever present and he acknowledged that in his dual role as captain and opening batter - there's nowhere to hide. "The element of pressure is something that is not really unique to me as a player. All players have to deal with that pressure but it comes in different forms. Being the captain, it's a lot more blown up," he said. "All eyes are on you. There's a lot more critique regarding your performances and just how you are as a leader. With the title of being captain comes that responsibility. It's not something that one can really shy away from."
And in true Bavuma style, he said he is ready to meet the challenge head on and humbly. "With all the pressure that is upon me, I will face up to it as honourably and with as much gratitude as I can. The element of pressure is something all players have to face."
Bavuma can take heart from coach Mark Boucher's expectation that Australian conditions will be more suited to his game than what he faced in India. The ball comes onto the bat quicker in Australia than India, seamers have concentrated on hard lengths in the opening round and Bavuma is confident and comfortable against the short ball, which should all work in his favour.
From the matches already played in Hobart, it's been clear that run-scoring in the powerplay can be difficult as seamers deliver what Jason Holder called "Test-match lengths", and Bavuma believes he has the game to match the situation. "We've seen it has been challenging upfront. We've seen bowlers trying to challenge that off stump. So we want to be as circumspect as we can be, but with the right intensity, in order to put pressure on the bowlers," Bavuma said. "We understand it's going to be challenging. Looking at our batting blueprint, it works in our favour."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent