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How Lara inspired Bavuma in his landmark Test match

South Africa's new Test captain reveals message of encouragement from former West Indies great

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
03-Mar-2023
Temba Bavuma is happy on his first day as South Africa's Test captain, South Africa vs West Indies, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day, February 28, 2023

Temba Bavuma received a message from Brian Lara before making his Test captaincy debut in Centurion  •  AFP/Getty Images

Of all the messages Temba Bavuma received as he prepared to make his Test captaincy debut against West Indies in Centurion, Brian Lara's was among those that meant the most.
"He came to me and said, 'Big respect, big up. All respect to you for the position you have,' and he wished me well," Bavuma said. "I had to pinch myself there."
When Lara made his Test debut in December 1990, Bavuma was only seven months old. He would have been too young to have watched South Africa's first Test post-readmission: against West Indies in 1992, when half-centuries from Lara and current Cricket West Indies director of cricket Jimmy Adams set South Africa a target they ultimately did not achieve. But as he grew up, Bavuma would have heard a lot about West Indies, and Lara.
He was a teenager when Lara scored 202 at Wanderers and 115 at Newlands - in a series South Africa won 3-0 in the summer of 2003-04 - as well as the 196 in Port of Spain and 176 in Bridgetown against South Africa two years later. Lara was a bonafide great, and a role model to Bavuma in a way no one else could be.
In Bavuma's early years, the South African team had no black African players. He was eight when Makhaya Ntini was capped in 1998, and by the time Bavuma became a Test player in 2014 - against none other than West Indies - only four other black African players had represented South Africa in Test cricket, and none of them were batters. Bavuma became the first. What he represents to millions of young South Africans is what Lara represented to him: the power of black excellence.
Kagiso Rabada was born five years after Bavuma - in 1995 - when West Indies last won a Test series against a top-eight team away from home. He also draws inspiration from them.
"I have a huge admiration for West Indian cricket culture. And as a bowler, how can you ignore that famous bowling attack, and the likes of Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Gordon Greenidge - the list goes on and on and on," Rabada said. "They dominated world cricket at a stage, and the whole world knows about it. They're a phenomenal side with a phenomenal culture. I am friends with many of them. I admired the players that have come before - they would have played a role in my cricketing upbringing - and the current players too."
Much like South Africans of subcontinental heritage grew up supporting India and Pakistan, black South Africans had cultural and political reasons to support West Indies; and Bavuma and Rabada's families were among those who did. The West Indian greats also continue to inspire their own too. Kemar Roach admitted his main motivation for still playing Test cricket - 14 years after making his debut in 2009 - was because he wants to "get among the greats".
His five-wicket haul in Centurion put him fifth on the list of West Indies' highest wicket-takers in Tests, and helped him overtake his mentor Joel Garner.
"When I got into the team, he was the team manager. I spent a lot of time in his room, communicating and stuff and learning the tricks of the trade. He checks on me every once in a while. To pass him is a great honour," Roach said, quickly checking himself. "Sorry Mr Garner."
At 34 years old - and with 76 caps to his name - Roach has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
"My motivation comes from wanting to perform, wanting to get my numbers up and wanting to get amongst the greats," he said. "We have a fantastic dressing room; the camaraderie, the fun we have - that's the motivation for me in trying to keep going as long as I can."
When asked if he could put a timeframe on it, Roach referenced NBA legend LeBron James promising his fans multiple titles. "Let's see how long I can go. Hopefully two, three, four, five, six, seven years…"

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