The party is over. After two months of high-octane cricket thanks to the SA20
and the Women's T20 World Cup
, South African cricket now has to get on with the serious business of a Test series and you can expect it to be heavy going.
Although the series takes place following sell-out crowds around the country, the Tests start on Tuesday this week and Wednesday next week, leaving little room for big weekend crowds and there's no buzz to speak of.
That's understandable for a contest whose context was ripped away when South Africa were confirmed to be out of contention
for the World Test Championship final and against an opposition that have not properly competed here since their Test win at St George's Park
in 2007. Since then, West Indies have only toured South Africa once in 2014 and have not won a Test.
made his debut
in that series and though it was unremarkable, it marked a full circle moment for someone who saw cricketers from the Caribbean as role-models. "Growing up, West Indies was the team that I supported," Bavuma said ahead of the first Test. "They were always on the TV at home and my uncles supported them. I guess there's always been that [special] sentiment when it comes to West Indies. When I made my debut, I got 10 runs, so that wasn't a thing to make a big noise about. Hopefully this can go better."
As far as leadership debuts go, Bavuma probably could not have wished for a lower-profile assignment. At the same time as his Test captaincy reign
begins, Australia play India
, England are in New Zealand
and the Women's Premier League
is beginning. It's safe to say the majority of cricket fans' eyeballs will be occupied, especially as the outcome of this series has no bearing on the current WTC cycle.
For South Africa it is simply an opportunity to begin again, though their next Test will be in December. By then, it's likely that former captain Dean Elgar will have retired. He was planning this series as a swansong in both captaincy and playing terms and after he had no choice in the former, he will want to make sure he controls the latter. Elgar's tenure lasted less than two years and began a brief revival for the Test side, but he was replaced with Bavuma by new coach Shukri Conrad
, who has been tasked with turning around a team that was completely outplayed in their last five Tests.
South Africa lost series in both England and Australia and were bowled out for under 200 runs in seven out of 11 Test innings. That has necessitated a shake-up of the top six which has seen Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen, Khaya Zondo and Kyle Verreynne dropped and Aiden Markram and Ryan Rickelton recalled. Also included are Keegan Petersen, who is back from a torn hamstring, and Heinrich Klaasen, who has been picked as first-choice wicketkeeper-batter. The overall make-up of the line-up suggests that South Africa are looking for a more proactive, Bazball-style approach, but with their usual amount of caution. Bavball maybe?
"In my experience, the last two series, we know are always tough tours," Bavuma said. "They separate the good guys from the really good guys and [it] comes with challenges. We didn't meet up to those challenges. We know we need to score runs to give the bowlers to do what they need to do. We shouldn't forget the fact we have guys here who played against India last summer when people didn't back us to do it and we won. And there was no guy who scored 150 or something like that. Hopefully [the series against] West Indies will be another showing of guys going out and doing what they need to do from a team point of view."
To that end, South Africa are also hoping for slightly less hostile pitches than usual, even though the series will be played entirely on the Highveld and there has been heavy rain for several weeks in that area. While Bavuma and Conrad have not specifically requested a particular kind of surface, pitches have been more batter-friendly across the country on the domestic four-day circuit and that is set to continue into the internationals. Whether that will make for more exciting cricket remains to be seen but Bavuma certainly wasn't selling it that way.
Asked what he thought of West Indies, he said, "They play old-fashioned cricket. Batters grind it out. Bowlers are looking to hit their areas outside offstump." And he's not wrong. Over the last year, West Indies have the lowest run-rate in Tests
among all teams - 2.71. South Africa have the second-lowest - 2.95. Both of them are well behind the format leaders, England, who score at 4.36 to the over and have the best win-loss record in Tests over the last 12 months. For teams like South Africa and West Indies, who are playing catch up, England's high-risk, high-reward strategy could be an inspiration but its seems Bavuma and co are getting their motivation elsewhere.
"All the guys were watching the T20 World Cup final and supporting the ladies. We always look for areas everywhere to draw inspiration and energy from and we will be using that in our game," Bavuma said, referring to the the South African Women's team who made history by becoming the country's first senior side to qualify for a World Cup final
Given that the men were booted out of the last two T20 World Cups in the group stage and are yet to qualify for this year's 50-over World Cup, it's fitting that they were taking notes on how their counterparts have exceeded expectation and even echoed the call for more money to be spent on the women's game.
"It's been big - what the women's team has been able to achieve over the last while, with the limited resources they have," Bavuma said. "With performances like this, I hope there will be a lot more support, a lot more care and a lot more invested into the women's team."