Cape Town - Temba Bavuma has always been able to bat. It is a talent that he has been bestowed with since first picking up a willow as a little boy in Langa.
He just needed to believe that he could bat again. And more importantly he needed someone that he trusted to tell him so.
That someone was new Proteas Test coach Shukri Conrad. For all Conrad’s outwardly bombastic demeanour, the 55-year-old is blessed with the “soft skills” that players yearn for in a coach. Just read former captain Faf du Plessis’ autobiography.
After months of being trapped on “an emotional rollercoaster” Bavuma was finally able to off-load the baggage that had been weighing him down. It wasn’t done on a couch somewhere, but rather on the Mangaung Oval outfield ahead of the ODI series against England.
There were signs that the shackles were starting to come off when Bavuma struck 36 off just 28 balls in the first ODI. They were torn to shreds in the next game when the skipper unleashed a match-winning, and arguably career-defining, 109 off 102 balls as he spearheaded a record 347/5 run chase.
"It's obviously been an emotional rollercoaster the last couple of months, and I guess for me, it was just being vulnerable to the coach, telling him where I see myself and how I feel about everything," Bavuma said afterwards.
"It helps that I've worked with Shukri before and he helped me cut through all the nonsense happening in my head and made sure that I was mentally there for the game.
"It was just him giving me an ear, hearing me out and validating the feelings that I've had. The biggest thing is getting your mind into the right state to play the game. Shuks is not a therapist. What I enjoyed was the honesty and the clarity that he gave in the chat."
Bavuma was also candid about how the vitriol, particularly on social media, directed at him over the past few months affected him mentally.
"Emotionally it can be draining and it can be taxing. As much as you try to block it out, it does affect you," he said. "The biggest one is when it affects people around you - your family. As a player, I have my ways of dealing with it. It is a part of the journey."
"We all go through periods of ups and downs, whether in our careers and family life. The difference (with professional sportspeople) is that it's in the eyes of everyone and everyone wants to have a piece of you. It's about trying to not be as emotional as you can and to see things as plainly, as they are. Blocking out the noise is something you have to do but that is quite impossible, especially me in the situation I find myself in, as the captain."
Since his international debut back in 2014, Bavuma has carried the weight and expectation of a nation on his slight shoulders as the lone black African batter across formats for the Proteas.
This increased exponentially once he was appointed white-ball captain two years ago.
But Bavuma has always just wanted to be seen as a cricketer that contributes to his team winning matches. And that’s why Sunday's century that sealed a series victory over the world champions will sit high on his pedestal.
“It (the century) is probably up there with one of my better ones. To play a hand like that in chasing 340, you have to play well, and obviously as the captain, you want to be a guy who leads from the front, and really inspires the other guys. Yeah, so that was probably one of my best,” he said.
Bavuma and the Proteas will have the opportunity to close out a 3-0 cleansweep over England in Kimberley on Wednesday.