— Cape Town The late president Nelson Mandela has served as an inspiration for South African athletic teams.
The legendary statesman would drop by unannounced to provide a few inspiring remarks. This contributed significantly to the Springboks’ 1995 Rugby World Cup victory and Bafana Bafana’s 1996 Afcon championship at FNB Stadium.
And when key votes were needed to bring the 2010 Fifa World Cup home to South Africa, “Madiba Magic” was once again called upon.
Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years, and a visit there links people to him.
And that’s exactly what the Proteas Men’s cricket team did last week, ahead of a couple of key months that include a tour to India, which begins on Wednesday in Thiruvananthapuram with the first Twenty20 International of the series, and the T20 World Cup in Australia.
It was an especially memorable journey for skipper Temba Bavuma. The Proteas captain, a native of Cape Town who now resides in Johannesburg, has recently had a difficult moment.
Bavuma missed the tour of the United Kingdom owing to an elbow injury, and was passed over by all six franchises at last week’s inaugural SA20 auction.
“For many of us on the team, the journey to Robben Island was an inspirational experience. I was about eight years old the last time I visited, so I don’t remember anything. This felt like a new experience, and it increased my sense of purpose,” Bavuma stated during the Proteas’ departing press conference.
The last few months have been the most difficult in terms of injuries. It was certainly aggravating. Mentally, it was pretty challenging to go through that time without knowing when I would heal from my elbow injury.
Bavuma’s return to the Proteas will undoubtedly be a tremendous confidence booster. His SA20 exclusion sparked outrage on social media, which visibly affected the Proteas captain.
Bavuma’s condition was so grave that national team coach Mark Boucher was compelled to make a public statement indicating that the Proteas stand “100 percent” behind him.
Boucher also emphasized how the team rallied around Bavuma prior to departing for India during team-building exercises.
Bavuma, though, is an extremely proud man who does not believe he needs pity given his current predicament.
“The guys on the squad, our connection, and our bond go well beyond being teammates,” he explained. “Off the field, we are buddies. For me, the mere fact that the guys were present has been sufficient. I do not anticipate sympathy or anything similar.
“The most important thing for me is to best serve the team. I continue to bear the responsibilities of team captain. As I feel I have been doing, I will endeavor to do my best.”
The 32-year-old is well aware that scoring runs is the greatest way to silence his critics. The last tour to India, where Bavuma suffered his elbow injury, was difficult, as India’s new-ball bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar overpowered the Proteas captain.
Bavuma, however, believes that this trip to India, which consists of three T20Is and three ODIs, is the ideal opportunity for him and others to establish form prior to the global tournament in Australia.
Bavuma stated at his leaving press conference, “We want to get the lads into condition. Most of them have been in form, but guys like me have been out of action for the previous three months, so I’m looking forward to that.”
“Personally, I just want to be on the field and utilize this opportunity to gain game experience, score some runs, and regain my confidence.
“We are only concerned with the present, which is the India tour. The focus is also on completing the preparation gaps that need to be filled, getting the players into form leading up to the World Cup, and ensuring that we maintain our confidence and belief as a unit. This is the focus at the moment.
“There may be additional men who are not yet in the proper form, so it is necessary to get them there. We also need to finalise that final XI. We have a reasonable sense of what this team will look like, but conditions in India differ from those in Australia. So the side we probably play in Australia won’t necessarily be the one in India.”