Cape Town — Springbok rugby captains, especially World Cup-winning ones, are revered in South Africa. Proteas cricket captains, particularly as none have lifted a World Cup, not so much.
Bar the late Hansie Cronje, who was later crucified for his match-fixing shenanigans, none have been universally loved. Even Graeme Smith had his detractors.
Smith, in fact, was so paranoid at one stage of his career that he firmly believed there was personal vendetta against him purely due to his English mother tongue.
So, when Temba Bavuma fell on the wrong side of the public’s affection there was precious little sympathy for the current Proteas’ white-ball captain. It was simply registered as part and parcel of the job.
But it wasn’t in fact.
The current age of social media has fostered a culture where people are allowed to express their innermost prejudices without any retribution.
Bavuma has been the unequivocal target purely because he is a black South African living in a country that still grapples with racial oppression 29 years after it was outlawed.
He would be the first to admit that he’s underperformed in T20 cricket. It is his least most productive format. I have said as much previously.
But to lay the blame for everything that’s wrong with South African cricket squarely at his door is grossly unfair. Equally he is not solely responsible for every defeat either.
There were 10 other players alongside him when the Proteas lost to the Netherlands on that fateful day in Adelaide. But yet he was the one lambasted.
The vitriol crossed a line. It became personal. And it hurt Bavuma.
"Emotionally it can be draining and it can be taxing. As much as you try to block it out, it does affect you. The biggest one is when it affects people around you - your family," Bavuma said.
But Bavuma is also smart enough to know the only response is through on-field performances. It is why he’s held back a public rebuke however much it may have been bubbling inside of him.
For much of the last few months he’s adopted Michelle Obama's mantra "When they go low, you go high" and maintained his dignity throughout.
And even during his triumphant moment on Sunday when he had every opportunity to strike back, Bavuma instead maintained his class with a priceless "It's good that I reminded myself how to count to 100".
Bavuma’s innings in Bloemfontein was one of the finest ODI centuries that you are likely to witness. His timing, shot-selection and general ball striking was of the highest order.
Yet, some still chose to push a narrative that saw Bavuma’s stumps flattened on their front pages.
It would be naive to think that one sparkling innings would transform a generational mindset.
“Very special, playing against England is always a tough ask, a good opportunity to test our way of playing, chasing 340 like that gives us a lot of confidence.”— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) January 29, 2023
Temba Bavuma reflects on his performance and the series win 💬#SAvENG
Bavuma’s road ahead is still a long one. Like it was when he struck that maiden Test century at Newlands seven years ago.
But so is the journey for us as South Africans to commit to wanting to be better by not falling prey to the social vultures that are inclined to drag us down to their level.
Temba Bavuma has shown us that it can be done.