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Unfazed Bavuma ready to 'make a big play', and soon

The success of the other batters has papered over Bavuma's failures, but he must start scoring some runs with the knockouts approaching

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Temba Bavuma waits for his turn in the nets, Men's World Cup 2023, Mumbai, October 23, 2023

"He is still feeling good about his own game and is very confident," Quinton de Kock said about Temba Bavuma  •  AFP/Getty Images

Temba Bavuma is confident that, with South Africa's campaign at the World Cup entering a crucial stage, he will rediscover the touch that made him enter this tournament as South Africa's leading run-scorer in ODI cricket this year.
With 111 runs from five matches, Bavuma is the least profitable of South Africa's top six at the World Cup at the moment, and has also scored fewer runs than their No. 7, Marco Jansen, but the form of his team-mates means he does not have to feel the pressure yet. "You always want to be making contributions," he said in Kolkata ahead of South Africa's meeting with India. "The other batters are smashing it at the moment, and I take comfort in the fact that I've been involved in some partnerships with Quinton [de Kock] up front."
Bavuma and de Kock shared a 108-run stand against Australia in Lucknow, to which Bavuma contributed 35, but none of their other partnerships has topped 38. That 35 is Bavuma's top score. He has been dismissed by left-arm seamers twice but there isn't much more of a pattern to his (mis)fortunes other than the obvious - he has just been finding fielders. So, while the numbers say that Bavuma is struggling, some of the shots he has played - think the twin cover drives against New Zealand just before he edged Trent Boult to slip - and the ways in which he has got out suggest that things are not as bad as they may seem and de Kock agrees.
"Temba has been batting really well," de Kock told the media on Friday. "He has looked very solid up front. He has somehow found a way to keep getting out. He is still feeling good about his own game and is very confident. Temba always backs himself, which is a good thing and a good trait to have. He is not fazed. At least I hope he is not - it doesn't look like he is."
And 24 hours later, Bavuma confirmed that he is, indeed, unfazed. "From my side, maybe it's just one of those patches again where I am kind of scratching, but I think I've got to keep that belief that the opportunity will be there for me to make a big play within the team. That's where my head is," he said. "I take a lot of comfort in the fact that we've been getting starts in that first ten overs and obviously with the guys being in form, they've been able to exploit that and play the way that they've played."
But that does not mean there is no expectation of Bavuma and de Kock has predicts that one of the next few games - and South Africa have at least three matches left - will see the best of the captain. "I got a feeling one or two of these games - especially an important game - that's when he is going to come through for us. That's Temba Bavuma in a package," de Kock said.
Asked whether the backing of his team-mates is a balm during tough times, Bavuma appeared at his brightest in what could have otherwise been an intimidating press engagement. "I take a lot of confidence from that. That's something that I feel every day within the team," he said. "And I think it's probably due to the fact that there's a group of batters who've been with each other for the last three or four years. We've seen each other go through the little ups and the downs and we know that all of us mentally have what it takes to get over the little challenges that we face."
One of those challenges would have been the pre-match press conference. There were more journalists than at any of South Africa's other matches and one of them was direct in asking whether South Africa have faced their demons.
"Have you talked about not choking in this important match?" a reporter asked Bavuma, as there was some awkward shuffling in the room.
"I don't know how to answer that," Bavuma replied. "I think if we come unstuck tomorrow, I don't think it'll be a matter of choking. I doubt you would say that about India as well if they come unstuck that they would choke."
And that may have been the mic-drop. Bavuma is not a hostile or confrontational character but a soft-spoken, thoughtful and intellectual cricketer. And as this World Cup reaches the business end, he is proving to be one who has both internalised the challenges that he faces as the captain of a South African team, with all the history that comes with that role, and as an opening batter, albeit one who is due some runs.
"Mentally, I've obviously got to keep staying there. There's still got a lot of cricket to go within this tournament. And I believe that I'll have a part to play somewhere within the tournament."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket