Proteas captain Bavuma hints at all spin attack and dismisses talk of choking

Proteas captain Temba Bavuma.
Proteas captain Temba Bavuma.
Image: Vipin Pawar/Shutterstock

“Have you talked about how not to choke in this important match?” a member of the local media asked Temba Bavuma on Saturday?   

It has been a while since choking has cropped up as a topic for South Africa at this tournament.

And to be fair to the enquirer, he did add the caveat that “this strong batting (line-up) must have wiped away that tag to a certain extent.” 

Bavuma let the question roll around in his head for a few seconds before replying.

“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.” 

It was the topic the Proteas knew they would get asked about.

One of those TV segments the ICC filmed to fill in gaps in programming is all about choking.

A number of the players are asked what the word means to them.

It is what the Proteas are seen as in world cricket, even though in recent ICC events, it’s been India which has looked tentative in knockout matches.

South Africa, despite playing and especially batting in as authoritative manner as any South Africa team has done at a World Cup, remain firmly holders of the chokers tag for the majority of viewers and it will stay that way until they win a knockout match here.

“You’ve 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 is able to exploit that moment or that weakness,” said Bavuma.

“We understand that there will be pressure moments within the World Cup, some of those we've been able to 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.” 

The battle between the top two teams on the points table has certainly captured the imagination of this city, with the hype around the match heightened by the fact that the sport’s biggest star Virat Kohli is celebrating his 35th birthday on Sunday.

Bavuma said he wanted his players to embrace the occasion, but not get carried away by it, something that they have managed well in this tournament, though they haven’t played in a match of this magnitude.

“I think we still want to stay a lot more drawn to each other as a team, regulate our emotions as much as we can and make sure we're in the best space possible to play our best cricket.” 

While both batting line-ups have been in excellent form — with five of the top 10 run-scorers in the tournament set to play tomorrow — it is the respective bowling units, which have been clinical. 

India’s seam bowling trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Siraj and Mohammad Sami are suddenly being written up as the best fast bowling combination that the host nation has ever produced.

The top ten wicket-takers also feature five players from the two teams, with Marco Jansen, Gerald Coetzee and Kagiso Rabada sharing 41 wickets between them.

The Indian trio have shared 38 wickets, but Shami, who came in as a replacement for Hardik Pandya, has only played three matches, but taken 14 wickets. 

Bavuma, in what seemed an attempt at playing mind games, said South Africa was strongly considering playing both of their front-line spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi.

“If the wicket assists the spinners, you'll definitely see those two,” he said, adding he had yet to look at the pitch, which was under a large white cover for most of South Africa's training session here on Saturday afternoon.

In fact, at this ground, pace has performed better than spin in this World Cup, with 21 wickets taken at an average of 19.33, while only 10 wickets have fallen to spin at an average of 36.30.

Then there’s the problem that Shamsi has had against India.

Their batters clearly have a liking for the left-arm wrist spinner, who averages 63.60 against them and has taken only five wickets in six matches.

The fact that just two of the 49 overs he’s bowled against India have been maidens, shows he is not exerting any control either, and picking him on Sunday would be a risk unless conditions are extreme in favour of spin.

That would be unlikely given the success of India’s quicks and their batters' enjoyment of the ball coming onto the bat. 


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