Temba Bavuma puts spotlight on ‘inclusive leadership group’ as SA look to move on after turbulent 12 months

South Africa men’s national team are ready to move on from controversies and display their culture of “inclusiveness,” according to white-ball captain Temba Bavuma, as they approach a bumper 2022-2023 season.

Two-and-a-half years of scrutiny on the team environment, which included their response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the conduct of head coach Mark Boucher, culminated in disciplinary charges against Boucher being dropped and the path cleared for him to take the team to the 2023 World Cup. And Bavuma is excited at the start of what is a bumper 18 months for South Africa.

“It’s inclusive,” Bavuma told ESPNcricinfo of the team culture, ahead of the team’s departure for India for the T20I series. “When I say inclusive, I look at the leadership squad. You’ve got guys from different backgrounds, who come in with their different perspectives and guys are able to sit down on a table and share their ideas and whatever decision we make, it’s an encompassing one. It’s one that accommodates everyone. It’s not one that is biased to one specific group.”

That may explain why South Africa did not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to anti-racism gestures until the CSA board forced them to collectively take a knee at the T20 World Cup. For the five months before that, the squad had the choice between taking a knee, raising a fist or standing to attention, which the board interpreted as creating “an unintended perception of disparity or lack of support for the initiative,” but which Bavuma explained was the result of attempts to understand each other.

“For the team, the biggest thing for me was the conversations we had,” he said. “It was more about putting aside your perspective and being able to have empathy for the other guy; listening to what the other guy says. You don’t necessarily have to agree with what he says, but it’s just understanding where he comes from and having that empathy.”

While within the squad, players accepted each other’s decisions on gestures, outside of it, especially across the globe where South Africa’s recent racially-segregated past is fresh in the minds of many, it was not. And Bavuma could see that point of view too.

“Common sense is common sense. What is wrong is wrong. What is right is right. But at least you kind of understand what informs a certain guy in his decision making or his attitude. That was the biggest thing.

Taking the knee, Bavuma said, was needed though he added that the significance of the gesture has been diluted over time. “It probably got to a point where, without being disrespectful to it, it was a bit more about optics more than anything. But I think within the team, there was a lot of growth, a lot of respect that guys started having within each other.”

There has been no directive for the team to take a knee this season.

Instead, South Africa’s focus is extending their idea of inclusivity to their demand for excellence and their hope for achieving big things across tours to India, England and Australia.

“We are pushing each other, we are pushing the boundaries and we are trying to get better and better. There’s openness in the team. If I think back at the conversations that were had, they were sensitive conversations, and I don’t think any group would be having those types of conversations and still be in a place where they want to play for each other on the field. It’s an environment where it’s conducive for guys to play well and I’d like to think the younger guys that are coming in, feel as if they can come in and be themselves but most importantly, perform.”

And that focus on what happens on the field, extends to Boucher too. “I haven’t been with the wider group but I would like to think there would be relief that now we are in a space where we can 100% focus on the cricket. I am sure the coach as well will look forward to being allowed to focus on his main job of coaching and being given the necessary support that he requires as a coach.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

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