New captains and a new era for the Proteas
JOHANNESBURG - Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma have only been captains for a few days, haven’t flipped a coin or fronted a team photo, but already they’re offering the Proteas men’s team some direction.
Their appointments have been thought through, talked over, their personalities analysed and the reasons for them being named Test and limited overs captain respectively, show clarity.
It has been a long and difficult time for the Proteas. Since the end of the 2019 World Cup the national men’s team – still the biggest money making entity in South African cricket – has been in a state of flux. “It hasn’t,” Elgar diplomatically put it, “been an ideal situation in the last few years.”
A great deal of that is down to ineptitude of previous administrators. The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t help, and the progress of Mark Boucher as head coach has been of a stop/start nature. That there hasn’t been trusted, secure leadership on the field hasn't helped.
“The Proteas players deserve the opportunity to have someone give them clarity, reassurance and more stability going forward,” Elgar explained.
The decision taken by Boucher, Enoch Nkwe and Graeme Smith to make Quinton de Kock captain – first of the limited overs teams and then the Test side – was a mistake. It was too restrictive for a character who is at his best when his mind is free. De Kock suffered already as a result of bio bubble limitations, that keep an extremely outdoorsy individual locked in a hotel room for hours on end – making him captain proved even more suffocating.
Free of the burden – a word Smith used – of the captaincy, De Kock will also need an arm around the shoulder and to have his self-belief reinforced if he is to resume being a weapon for the national side.
In Bavuma and Elgar, there are two players who know De Kock well and especially in the former’s case, gets on with him well. Some of Bavuma’s best moments in a Proteas shirt have come in partnership with De Kock. Hobart in 2016 and Wellington 2017, stand out as great moments in the Test shirt – while they’ve also shared three hundred partnerships in the top order in ODIs. Of the two new captains, Bavuma will be under the spotlight first and probably the most in the next few years given the trio of ICC events on the calendar. South Africa’s history in those events is a sorry one. Bavuma won’t have to go far if he wants to hear of the anguish endured by South African teams of the past in World Cups – Boucher was in Birmingham in 1999, Smith in Dhaka in 2011. Both shed tears in the dressing room.
The 30 year old steps into the job, having led the Lions for the last two years. In 2018 when he was made Lions captain, Bavuma said the following: “I’m the type of person that normally looks within for answers before I go to others, I need to be more accessible and open and allow people to be able to confide in me, lend an ear to anyone who needs it.”
Smith this week outlined how well Bavuma had lived up to those words from three years ago. “It’s been a challenging period and we’ve certainly noticed his leadership credentials behind the scenes, the way he’s been operating within the squad. The tactical nature of his captaincy at the Lions, and the feedback we’ve received from the management and the coaches has been really positive.”
It is a risky choice. Bavuma hasn’t even really established himself in the white ball teams. He’s played 14 limited overs matches – six ODIs and eight T20s – but in making him captain the onus has been placed firmly on him to find a degree of comfort in whatever top order slot he takes.
For the Lions, he is a solid, but crafty no.3 in the T20 arena, but at the Proteas, it is Faf du Plessis who has filled that position and done so successfully. Bavuma has played well as opener in the T20 team – his strike rate is comfortably about 130 – but it will be interesting to see if he feels he may be better suited to first drop at international level.
Besides settling into the captaincy, the most pressing issue for Bavuma will be ensuring the T20 side can play – especially bat – with greater freedom and lose that fear of failure element. South Africa’s T20 side lacks the kind of dynamism with which the West Indies, England and India play the game, and Bavuma will be at the forefront of forging a more progressive style ahead of the two T20 World Cups that will be played this year and in 2022.
For Elgar there is, as he acknowledged, some more time to think. Cricket SA is in the process of wrapping up the details of a tour to the West Indies in June which will hopefully include two Tests. With Elgar, what the Proteas will get is someone who doesn’t brook any nonsense. “As captain, I’m going to have straightforward and honest conversations with my teammates, the management and the media. This won’t be a walk in the park. This is going to be a long journey.”
“Myself and Temba are going to work closely together to try and stabilise the Proteas brand again,” Elgar added.
It feels like the messaging out of the Proteas camp will be clearer with those two at the helm.
It won’t automatically mean there’ll be positive results on the field immediately, but the sense that there is a plan will be a lot clearer.