Apart from the most appalling luck at the start of his limited overs captaincy career, the abiding memory of Temba Bavuma’s departure from the field of play – and the series – was the extraordinary determination he showed to ignore what was obviously a serious injury in attempt to continue batting at a critical stage of the run-chase.
Having pulled a hamstring in his first game in charge of the ODI team against Pakistan he was reduced to watching from the sidelines as the team lost 1:2 to the tourists and mislaid a potential 20 WC Super League points. Here was his chance to put that right and all but the blind, literally and metaphorically, could have missed the determination and skill with which he built the partnership with Aiden Markram towards what would have been a record run-chase at the Premadhasa Stadium.
Bavuma read the match situation to perfection as illustrated by the fact that he played himself in with his first 14 runs from 21 balls while Markram, who was playing beautifully and craving the strike, plundered 30 off 23 balls. Far from a stumble in the run rate, as often happens when a new batsman comes to the crease, South Africa’s increased from 5.1 to 5.5 at the start of Bavuma’s innings.
The sight of him pulling the batting glove onto his hand after treatment was painful to watch. As much as he tried to disguise it, it was obvious that ‘mind over matter’ wasn’t working. But he was in the midst of turning the match around, back in his team’s favour and he wasn’t about to turn his back on them or that prospect.
I watched Bavuma closely for the next two overs while the TV cameras covered the game. He looked like he was gulping for air, occasionally lifting his head skywards as if to clear his head. A couple of times he tried to flex his hand as if to get the blood flowing to ease a severe bruise. His thumb, his whole hand probably, was screaming “this is not a bruise!” But he blocked them out. He was in charge.
It was only two overs but it would have felt a longer to him as he tried to hold his bat with a broken thumb. He’s just the latest in a long line of brave cricketers who have attempted to play through impossible injuries. The fact that he insisted on having the thumb strapped as heavily as possible with a view to batting again “if required”, as the pain intensified, illustrated how determined he is to succeed as national captain.
The team’s ‘bubble’ and the broadcast ‘bubble’ come close to touching distance on match days but remain several kilometres apart on non-match days. But we stay in electronic touch and we can see each other’s hotels. Especially from the roof-top of ours which provided an unusual venue for skipping and jogging amongst the rusty air-vents, extractors and solar panels. No chance of bumping into anybody from outside the bubble up there and far more varied than the hotel corridor.
Then, finally, after another long day, it was time to appreciate the Colombo sunset with a local beverage.