Hours after South African cricket was rocked when Quinton de Kock withdrew from their Twenty20 World Cup match against West Indies after refusing to take a knee, Temba Bavuma was a picture of grace, calm and maturity.
Bavuma stopped short of saying he and his teammates were upset with De Kock, but addressed the issue head on. “With freedom of choice, as much as we decide what you want to do, we can’t escape the consequences of the choices and decisions that we make,” the South Africa captain said.
“I think if there’s people out there who feel that certain things need a bit more clarity, then the fans, the media, should probably ask those individuals themselves.”
In the morning, before South Africa had left for Dubai, they were informed by Cricket South Africa that the team would be required to take a knee before the match. De Kock, 28, has previously declined to take a knee, raise a fist or stand to attention among the options put forward by CSA to support social equality.
At the toss, Bavuma announced that De Kock had withdrawn for personal reasons and CSA then released a statement during the game, saying it noted De Kock’s “personal decision … not to ‘take the knee’ before Tuesday’s game”.
Bavuma, speaking after South Africa had gone on to defeat West Indies by eight wickets, described the day as the “toughest” he had dealt with as captain, but refused to criticise De Kock even in the mildest terms.
“As a team we’re obviously surprised and taken aback. Quinton is a big player for the team, not just with the bat but the role he plays from a senior point of view,” Bavuma said.
“In saying that, Quinton is an adult. He’s a man in his own shoes. We respect his decision, his convictions. I know that he’ll be standing behind whatever decision that he’s taken.”
While CSA said it was awaiting a report from the team management before taking any further steps, it is difficult to see De Kock featuring at the tournament again if he continues his stance.
The CSA statement said: “All players are expected to follow this directive for the remaining games of the World Cup. After considering all relevant issues, including the freedom of choice of players, the board had made it clear it was imperative for the team to be seen taking a stand against racism, especially given SA’s history.”
Bavuma declined to speculate on what might happen. “I don’t know how far it’s going to develop. I mean, the decision that he’s taken is only today, so I can only speak about what happened today,” he said. “But as far as we stand, Quinton is still one of the boys, so whatever support he needs, whatever shoulder he requires from his teammates, we’ll be there for him.”
Before the start of the tournament the International Cricket Council sent out a request to all teams requesting them to take a knee – without making it mandatory – not specifically in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, but in support of the ICC’s zero-tolerance approach to racism.
Bavuma conceded that getting the directive from CSA so close to the start of a World Cup match was not ideal. “There wasn’t a great deal of time for us to thoroughly discuss this matter. It was a matter of us digesting what we’ve been told and finding a way for us to move forward. We’ve got a couple of days until our next game, and those days will be tough for the group, but I think guys will want to know in terms of his decision, they will use that time to find out, to find it out a bit better.”
Bavuma said he did not want to speak for his teammates when asked if there was a group of players who were unhappy with another set. “I don’t want to be fuelling any type of drama to say that a certain group had an issue with the fact that guys had a choice. I don’t think it’s as simple as just taking a knee. We have to appreciate the fact that we live in a country that has its own past that is diverse. As much as we’re a team, we wear the same shirt, we play for the badge, but outside that, we still live our own lives.”
De Kock’s replacement in the team, Reeza Hendricks, hit 39 off 30 balls as South Africa successfully chased down their target of 144 for the loss of just two wickets with 10 balls to spare, leaving the champions, West Indies, facing an early exit.
Kieron Pollard – the West Indies captain and a teammate of De Kock at Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League – said he did not know of any player who didn’t want to take a knee. “This is news to me,” Pollard said. “But you know our thoughts on this matter. It’s something that we feel strongly about as a team and as a people as well.”