Bavuma welcomes challenge of tough moments on World Cup qualification path

Captain backs allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo to come good against Ireland

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Temba Bavuma and Keshav Maharaj have a chat, Centurion, April 7, 2021

South Africa have seven more ODI series to follow in the Super League  •  AFP/Getty Images

South Africa are relishing the opportunity to practice playing under pressure as they build towards the 2023 ODI World Cup. They currently lie in last place on the Super League points table, but have played the joint-fewest matches, and have another 21 fixtures (seven series of three matches each) to work their way up. And as a team with a reputation for buckling in big moments, South Africa don't mind getting there the hard way.
"It gives us a good opportunity to get our ducks in a row. If it means that we have to play games under pressure or with a lot of consequence then so be it. It's not a bad thing to have to go through that type of process," Temba Bavuma, South Africa's captain said. "It will go a long way in strengthening our mental resolve. We'll know, going to the World Cup, that we've had to overcome a lot of tough moments."
So far, South Africa have lost the only series they've played in the World Cup Super League - 1-2 to Pakistan in March - but they had a second-string XI for the decider after several first-choice players had to leave for the IPL. Now, they have all their frontline players available and can start working on the combinations they want to use for the tournament. "Our first priority is to start racking up those points. In saying that, we want to use this opportunity to really get to terms with how we want to go about playing our ODI cricket," Bavuma said. "The time is still there for us to try out different options and give guys the opportunities to show what they can do with the overall goal of winning series and qualifying for the World Cup."
One position that will come into sharp focus is that of the allrounder, especially as South Africa's search for one in the post-Jacques Kallis era has been long. In West Indies, South Africa opted for a spin-bowling allrounder in George Linde and did not use a seam-bowling allrounder for the four T20Is before bringing in Wiaan Mulder for the finale.
With Dwaine Pretorius not on this tour after contracting Covid-19, Mulder may get more opportunities, especially as conditions in Ireland are expected to be more friendly to seam than spin, but Bavuma suggested the focus on specialists remains. "These conditions allow for us to play an extra allrounder which will give us an extra cushion in batting, but we still want to create a situation where batters need to take ownership of what they need to do," he said.
However, South Africa are also in need of another finisher to accompany David Miller and could turn to Andile Phehlukwayo, who did not feature in the Caribbean. "I see Andile playing a big part within the Proteas. He is an integral member of our squad. He is one of the few guys with a considerable amount of games and experience behind him and a guy like that cannot be thrown to the wayside," Bavuma said.
Phehlukwayo was underused against Pakistan earlier in the year and stand-in skipper Heinrich Klaasen hinted he was low on confidence, but Bavuma has seen a different side to Phehlukwayo on this trip and expects him to be back to his best. "Confidence is such a volatile thing for all of us. There's days when you wake up you feel on top of the world and there's days you feel like you don't know which end of the bat to hold. I don't think that's something unique to Andile," Bavuma said. "The best thing we can do as players is to keep supporting him and trying to get his mind as clear as possible. He is in a good state. He understands a lot more what his role is in the team."
Similarly, South Africa on the whole want to ensure they maintain a level of hunger for success among the group so they don't take an opposition like Ireland for granted on the road to the World Cup. "There is a danger of us expecting things to happen but we've come here to different conditions to what we are used to at home and different conditions to what we experience in West Indies. The challenge for us is to find a way to dominate and master conditions here," Bavuma said, "If we heavily invest our energy and bring about a certain intensity to that, we will get the results we want."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent