“I’m enjoying my cricket right now,” said Bavuma. “My mind is just a lot clearer about what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it; fueled by the confidence I’m getting from both the players and the new coaches.”
After his 172 in the Wanderers Test, Bavuma said he felt more supported by redball coach Shukri Conrad than he had since being under the care of his domestic coach with the Lions, Enoch Nkwe (who also served as South’s interim coach). Africa for a trip to India in 2019) despite being captain in two formats in the meantime. In May 2021, Bavuma was put in charge of South Africa’s white ball sides, albeit with just six ODI and eight T20I caps to his name. While 50-over cricket is clearly his forte, the shortest format proved tricky, particularly from a stroke rate point of view and since he was relieved of that role and put in charge of the Test team as he played the 50-over performance, Bavuma has flourished.
His recent innings have shown us a batter who is strong on the sweep and slog, who has opened up scoring areas both in front of and behind the square, and who can rotate well. While it may seem like a revelation to those watching from the outside, to Bavuma it’s just a demonstration of “what was always there” coming through now.
“It’s just a matter of confidence. Confidence is a big thing for any athlete,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep up the form and momentum I’ve been getting in the England series. I hit the ball quite well. I manage to find holes, which is important for me as a batsman. I can only hope that that stays.”
Despite its best efforts on Saturday night, South Africa fell 48 runs short of beating the West Indies, a side looking to make a fresh start for themselves. After losing 16 of the 20 ODIs they played last year, the West Indies are all but certain to miss out on automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup and need to start winning. Victory in South Africa – their first on the road against a team other than the Netherlands and Ireland since beating Bangladesh in Mirpur in 2018 – “means a lot”, as Hope put it.
“It’s something we talk about in the meetings. We’re just trying to win more cricket matches. We didn’t have a successful 2022 and we’re doing everything we can to turn it around,” he said.
It also marks a successful start for new leadership. Hope is now in charge of the ODI team, with 105 games under his belt and a lot on his plate. Although he did not open the bat in this match – as he has since 2019 – he skipped from 10th, kept the wicket and was captain, describing the match as an “exhausting match for me”.
So how will he cope with the many roles he has to play in what is a big ODI year for the West Indies? “I’m definitely going full steam ahead. It’s about giving my all to the team,” said Hope. “I have support from all sides. I have support from guys off the pitch and on the pitch. I have to keep embracing the responsibility and when it’s time to shine, I will.”
And he wants to apply that in all formats. As the opener of the ODI series played out shortly after the West Indies’ batting let them down in the Test series, there was some debate over whether players like Hope and former captain Nicholas Pooran should also be considered come for the red-ball team. According to the evidence from the East London ODI, the West Indies could do worse, but there is also an interesting context to Hope’s exclusion.
Like his counterpart Bavuma, Hope has only two Test centuries to his name – and they came in the same match. Hope has not played Test cricket since December 2021. When asked if he would like to come back to the longest format, Hope stated that hope will win.
“Something I always preach in the camp: control what you can control. I can’t control what the selectors do, I can’t control things behind the scenes, the only thing I can control is the way I prepared, the way I play. and the performance I put in on the pitch,” he said. “If the opportunity arises and the opportunity arises, I will grab it with both hands.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent for South Africa and women’s cricket