JOHANNESBURG – Temba Bavuma’s first season as Highveld Lions captain has been a darn sight better than either he or the franchise could have expected.
On a very superficial level, he has already lifted one trophy, and is 40 overs away from collecting a second.
Leadership has not negatively impacted his game; he still scores runs and heck he is even showing that compartmentalising him as a red-ball player is just plain wrong.
As an example: there was Bavuma on Wednesday in the T20 Challenge semi-final carving the second ball he faced – bowled by the World Cup-bound Andile Phehlukwayo – over point for a six that did some damage to the seats in one of the hospitality suites on the eastern side of the Wanderers.
He has scored 222 runs at an average of 37 in the competition and – for those who believe he can’t score quickly – done so with a strike rate of 127.58.
Everyone knows he is quick between the wickets, but turning ones into twos is not the only reason that his strike-rate is comfortably north of 100 – that six off Phehlukwayo was his sixth of the campaign, and he hit his seventh 15 balls later.
“He’s an international player, and yes, he’s mostly played Test cricket, but we’ve always believed that he’s skilful and talented enough to play white-ball cricket, which he’s shown now,” said Lions assistant coach Wandile Gwavu.
That’s Bavuma’s batting, but his captaincy has been quietly impressive too.
The way he has utilised his bowlers has been smart, and he has shown that he will pay no heed to reputation.
Dwaine Pretorius may be heading to the World Cup in a few weeks’ time, but in the last two Lions matches, the strong all-rounder has bowled a total of two overs.
Bjorn Fortuin’s left-arm spin has featured in the powerplay, but Bavuma has also employed him late in the opposition team’s innings too.
Nono Pongolo may only bowl after the 15th over, and sometimes Wiaan Mulder does not bowl at all.
“T20 games are fast, so all the bowlers have to be ready. You never know, you can plan all you want, but the game can quickly change direction,” said Gwavu.
“We’ve said the bowlers need to be ready in case the skipper needs them at any point.
“The way Temba has gone about it, bowling the right bowlers at the right time... I need to attribute the winning to Temba, and how he has captained.”
HALF CENTURIONS 🔥@tbavuma10 (52*) and @Rassie72 (69*) broke the CSA T20 Challenge record for the highest 3RD wicket partnership at the @BullringZA.— Lions Cricket (@LionsCricketSA) May 2, 2019
Hit like ❤️or comment with an emoji to rate their performance. #LIOvDOL #CSAT20Challenge #JoinTheChargeForAutism pic.twitter.com/IpJVnzAUt4
There were some coldly calculated moves in the field too, most impressively how he kept the pressure on the out-of-touch Hashim Amla when the Lions trounced the Cape Cobras at Newlands last Friday.
Bavuma kept six fielders in the circle whenever Amla was on strike, eventually inducing an error.
Bavuma admitted this week he has enjoyed captaincy as it’s allowed him to see the game differently, and it’s improved his own play in the process.
Although always a respected figure in the dressing-room, this season, by virtue of being their leader that respect has been enhanced further.
Whether there’s a future as skipper at a higher level, only time will tell.
NEXT MATCH 🤩— Lions Cricket (@LionsCricketSA) May 2, 2019
Its a FINAL !
🏏bizhub Highveld Lions vs @WarriorsCrickEC
🕑14:30 CAT, 05 May 2019
🎟️From, R30 @TicketProSA #JoinTheChargeForAutism #LIOvWAR #CSAT20Challenge pic.twitter.com/bh8OVuDVEC
Bavuma seems to have benefited from the Lions players who have bought into his call for selflessness and the result could be a second trophy this season, which would be a remarkable turnaround from a troubled 2017-18.
Bavuma’s Lions face the Warriors in the T20 Challenge final at the Wanderers on Sunday.@shockerhess