Dubai - Coach Mark Boucher has lauded the performance of his captain Temba Bavuma, despite the Proteas failing to advance to the semi-finals of the ICC T20 World Cup here in the UAE.
The Proteas became the first team since the advent of the group stages at the T20 World Cup to lose just one of their five Super 12 matches and still not advance to the knockout stages. The difference ultimately between South Africa boarding the plane home and preparing for a semi-final was a mere 0.477 on the net run-rate scale.
Bavuma’s team were under pressure throughout the tournament since losing their opening game against Australia with just two balls remaining, but the captain has managed to navigate both the on and off field pressures with aplomb in leading this inexperienced team to the brink of qualification with four successive victories, including a last-game win over the "in-form team in world cricket" England.
“I think Temba needs a pat on the back,” Boucher said. “He's been fantastic in the team environment and has really led from the front as well.”
“It's a bitter pill to swallow (to be knocked out). I think we played some very good cricket throughout the campaign, cricket under a lot of pressure as well after having lost our first game.
“But this team is in a very good space at the moment. It might not come through in the media every now and again, but I can guarantee you right now that they are very, very strong and together and hopefully that is reflecting on our performances and hopefully people can come and watch the guys and see it for themselves when we do get back home.”
The core elements for any meaningful growth and development to take place is based on honesty, though, and Boucher stated this much afterwards with the frank assessment that the campaign was “not successful because you're knocked out of the World Cup”.
But when the dust has settled and the pain of not progressing has subsided, this group of Proteas players and management should still look back on the competition with a degree of pleasure.
Of course, they will always regret the opening game against Australia when they “just didn't bat well enough” and the subsequent chase against Bangladesh where “people can maybe look at that and say we should have gone a bit harder there”, but they should still be able to reflect upon a tournament where they have now laid the foundations for a serious assault on the T20 World Cup crown next year in Australia.
It was not simply bluster from Boucher when he spoke of the bright future that this team has because “we by no means are a finished product”.
“We are on a journey, an upward curve that we are learning along the way,” Boucher said. “These games will stand us in very good stead because as I said, every game we played was under pressure.
“That's one thing we probably haven't done very well in the past is playing big games, pressurised games, and we really did well in this particular competition.
“Yes, it's a young side. We are still developing and hopefully we can go from strength-to-strength from here, take this confidence through, as well. It's not something we just arrived at a World Cup and all of the sudden start playing good cricket.
“We have won a lot of games in recent times. I think we are headed in the right direction. We just need to be nice and patient and keep challenging players and players need to keep challenging themselves.”