Temba Bavuma was at a loss of words for a brief period when the dreaded ‘choker’ word was used in reference to South Africa in the pre-match press conference of their World Cup 2023 match against hosts India at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Along with India, South Africa have been the best side of the tournament and yet, they are the ones who would be called chokers if they falter at the business end of the tournament. Why, you ask? History is the answer. Ever since their maiden World Cup appearance in 1992, South Africa, despite having the best side on paper on most occasions, somehow managed to find a way to self-destruct or in other words, ‘choke’.
Who can forget the 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa? A miscommunication between Allan Donald and Lance Klusener knocked South Africa, arguably the best team of the tournament, out. In 2007 it was Australia again that caused heartbreaks for South Africa in the semi-final. It was New Zealand in 2011 that stunned favourites South Africa in the quarter-finals in 2011 and then in the semi-final in 2015. The last World Cup was perhaps the only time South Africa did not enter as one of the favourites and neither did they perform like one.
But in this World Cup, Temba Bavuma’s South Africa has been the side to beat, much like the ones in 1999, 2007, and 2015. But will they manage to cross the line this time?
“To choke? I don’t know how to answer that. I think if we come unstuck tomorrow, I don’t think it’ll be a matter of choking. I doubt you would say that about India as well if they come unstuck if they would choke,” Bavuma said while replying to a question on the choker tag.
“You got two teams who are in-form, coming up against each other and I think it’s just a matter of who breaks first and who’s able to I guess, exploit that moment or that weakness. We understand that there will be pressure moments within the World Cup, moments that we’ve overcome to get to this point, and there will still be more. We’ll deal with them as best as we can. But yeah, I haven’t heard that word come up as of yet in the training,” he said.
Bavuma conceded the “noise” around the team to shed the underdogs tag has been growing with each successful outing but the side would just like to stay in the present and draw energy from the positive sentiments to continue their dream run.
“From the start of the tournament, we spoke about just trying to take it game by game, staying as present as we can. I believe we’ve done that very well,” Bavuma said.
“The noise around the team, that’s grown, but I think it’s for us to control our spaces within the team. But, I guess, also draw energy from the positive sentiment that’s floating in and around the team.
“It’s probably hard for us to keep going as the underdogs, but I think in terms of the team, everything still stays the same. We don’t see ourselves any different. We’ll still take it day by day, game by game.”
Two spinners for South Africa?
The match against India will be played on a used wicket that hosted the first World Cup tie here between the Netherlands and Bangladesh. There may be something in it for the spinners and Bavuma indicated he might playing both Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi on Sunday.
“Yeah, if the wicket assists the spinners, you’ll definitely see those two. If possible, I’d like to play both our front-line spinners, but we’ll see how that comes about.
“We are mindful of the fact that it won’t be like Delhi, where it’s a quick-scoring ground. We might have to graft a lot more. You might have to hit a lot more balls on the ground,” he said.
Bavuma has been the weak link in their power-packed batting line-up. Having missed two of the seven matches because of injury, Bavuma averages 22.20 without a fifty to his name.
“I take comfort from the fact that I’ve been involved in some partnerships with Quinton (de Kock) up front. Obviously, you want to extend it. Mentally, obviously, got to keep staying there. There’s still a lot of cricket to go within this tournament. I believe that I’ll have a part to play somewhere within the tournament,” he added.