Former England captain Michael Atherton believes South African cricket needs its own inspiring narrative – like Springbok rugby had in 2019 – under new captain Temba Bavuma.
Writing for The Times in London, Atherton highlighted the gripping narrative of black rugby players like Siya Kolisi and Makazole Mapimpi, who became the inspirational faces of the Springboks’ success at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
With Bavuma set to become the first black African captain of a Proteas cricket team on Friday, when the first ODI against Pakistan gets under way, Atherton suggests that the moment should be used to place South African cricket on a similar road to success.
‘Quite what transformation in a broader sense has been wrought by South Africa’s triumph in Japan, I’m not close enough to the sport to say,’ writes Atherton.
‘But I know South African cricket well enough to suggest that it is desperately in need of its rugby moment. Hijacked by maladministration, hindered by its failure to break out of the narrow grip of the great private schools, and hampered by comparisons with the past, South African cricket has stagnated.
‘What would a World Cup win under a black captain do for cricket in the long term? Who knows how deep real change would go if the game could inspire more broadly as rugby has been able to do, but during the next four-year cycle of ICC events.
‘He [Bavuma] has always had leadership ambitions and led his domestic franchise, the Lions, to silverware in first-class and limited-overs cricket. The team are in flux and short of established leadership options and so while Bavuma’s performances as a batsman in the middle order will be scrutinised, given his lack of one-day international experience, his claim on the captaincy is as strong as anyone’s.’
In contrast to the national rugby team, the Proteas have yet to win a World Cup in any of cricket’s formats. Currently stuck as the fifth-best ODI team in the world and the sixth-best T20I outfit, the focus of winning a World Cup will be far from Bavuma’s mind when he takes the field on Friday.
But, Atherton believes it could be a step in the right direction.
‘South Africa have never won a World Cup and global success right now looks a distant dream. It would do an immense amount for the sport in the country, in the same way that the success of the Springboks in Japan helped to change the conversation around rugby in South Africa,’ wrote the 53-year-old.