EXCLUSIVE: Temba Bavuma's special bond with Bok skipper Kolisi: 'I aspire to reach his heights'

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Temba Bavuma. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)
Temba Bavuma. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)
  • Temba Bavuma, who captains the Proteas in two of the three formats, talks about the bond he has built with Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi and the leadership lessons he’s learnt.
  • The 31-year-old, who earned his T20I debut against India in 2019, assesses what it will take for the Proteas to head to Australia in five months’ time and claim the world crown.
  • Bavuma also shares his views on the South African player drain due to their ongoing presence in the IPL and reveals his secret ambition when it comes to India’s lucrative domestic league

Sport24 asked: Did you dream you’d play 50 Tests and captain your country?

Temba Bavuma: No, not at all. I don’t think it was something realistic to be honest. To play for my country was something that was there but to have played for as long as I have, I can’t say it was something I envisioned or dreamed of. For me, the captaincy (which he assumed in 2021) is still a learning journey and I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable. With the responsibility, pressures and challenges that come with the captaincy, I feel it’s something that tests you every series. I try to take the captaincy in my stride and learn as much as I can. In terms of my highest high, it would be the way we performed at the previous T20 World Cup in the UAE. I know we didn’t get to the play-offs but as captain I was proud of the way we went about our business as a team in light of everything that was happening off the field. The way the guys rallied themselves and played as one was quite a big achievement for that group. In terms of the lowest of lows, there have been challenging moments and our most recent ODI series loss to Bangladesh was a bitter pill to swallow. It hurt for a lot of us in the team. If we had won that series we could have said that we had a super successful white ball season. I don’t think we underestimated Bangladesh as opponents. In our preparations, we spoke about not underestimating them or taking them for granted. We will have to look at our actions and how we went about our business in terms of preparation. For me, they definitely outplayed us in the ODI series. From a bowling front, they were able to put our batters under pressure as they were bowling 140 km/ph and from a batting front, they really took the attack to us. 

Sport24 asked: Your take on the IPL weakening the Proteas’ national team?

Temba Bavuma: If you look at the way we played in the Tests against Bangladesh it didn’t affect us really. We claimed a convincing 2-0 series win which speaks to the character of the team, how we were able to rally together and find a way. That is our challenge because South Africa is not an India, Australia or England who have the ability to say “no” to guys who want to play in the IPL. I kind of understand it for the players who are involved in the IPL in that it’s very lucrative and the cash you earn there can be life-changing. The challenge we are dealing with is how do we find that balance? The questions is how do you create a situation where playing for your country is the be-all and end-all? If we are able to retain the playing and coaching talent we find in the IPL, then we can be able to develop our sporting system to a point where playing for South Africa does become the number one. We also need to have our own T20 league which puts big money in guys’ pockets... I’d like to play in the IPL and be part of the glitz and glamour of that whole event but obviously you need the performances under your belt. From what I’ve seen the standard looks strong. I’d like to captain one of the teams. I don’t know where that ambition has come from but it would be a great opportunity.

Sport24 asked: What have you extracted from Siya Kolisi’s leadership?

Temba Bavuma: I have grown close to Siya over the last while and with us both signed to Roc Nation it makes that relationship a bit easier. What he has achieved for the sport of rugby in the country is quite inspirational. As a leader, I also aspire to get to the heights he has managed to achieve. It’s only apt from my side that I try learn from him as much as I can. Siya is also Xhosa so from a cultural point of view it makes it easier for us to relate to one another. I call him Mkhokheli which means leader in IsiXhosa. What I get from Siya is that the person off-field and the one who is on-field are two different people. But for Siya, it’s all about working with the players around him, empowering people and not trying to do everything by himself. It’s also about trying to suck as much value as you can out of the wider group. In terms of my leadership style, I have never been a big or loud speaker and am generally the type of person who is more willing to listen. I try to listen as attentively as I can and make sure that it shows in my actions. Communication is a skill I’m always trying to work on and I’ve come to understand that it’s one thing to say something and another to do it. Leading by example is when you really get guys behind you. I’m softly spoken but in terms of what I do is where the strength lies. The fundamental value I was taught when growing up was respect and I apply that as captain whether you’re a junior or senior player. It’s about respecting each other as individuals and as players. I try to maintain that throughout the change room and if I feel that is lacking or someone is straying away from it, I won’t necessarily get angry but as the captain I will point it out.

Sport24 asked: How much longer do you see yourself playing the game?

Temba Bavuma: I’m still strongly invested in South African cricket. I’m not going to put a number to how much longer I’ll play the game but I’d like to play for as long as my body and performances allow me to. As one of the leaders in the team, I’ve committed to putting the Proteas and the badge on top of the map again. We want people to really speak about the team with a great sense of pride. That isn’t going to happen over one or two years but I’m definitely going to be around for that time. 

Sport24 asked: What are your ambitions ahead of the T20 World Cup?

Temba Bavuma: We would like to find ourselves in the final - a position where we can win the World Cup. I don’t have any personal ambitions in terms of number of runs and it’s just to contribute to the cause of the team winning the World Cup. For my age group, we are under the belief that we have never won an ICC-sanctioned tournament and that is what we always get told. The one won in 1998 is not recognised for what reason I’m not too sure. In my mind and for a lot of my peers, we are under the narrative that we haven’t won an ICC-sanctioned event. The light is shining on us at this point in time and we have an opportunity to change that narrative. We will try do as much as we can to change things. You need the performances to come at the right times, a bit of luck and then when that opportunity is there, the key is to not run away from it and seize it with both hands. The efforts of the Proteas women’s team was inspiring. We were in New Zealand when they were busy with their preparations and got to mingle with them. I sensed excitement mixed with anxiety in their camp. The ladies have now reached three semi-finals and probably need to ask themselves what is it they need to do to get into the final. And once you are in the final it’s whoever stands up on the day.

Previous interviews:

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Dion O'Cuinneagain

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