Nine years

That is how long South Africa have had to wait in Test cricket to get a double century opening partnership.

The last of them came in 2008 when Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie put on 204 for the first wicket at Lord’s against England.

Since then, South Africa had just 13 opening partnerships in excess of hundred across nine years before the start of this series. The averages of their opening stands had steadily declined from the 40s to mid-30s and below that in the past few years.

Since the start of 2016, and before the start of the Bangladesh series, South African openers averaged just 28.06 with three-century partnerships. Despite one of their openers, Dean Elgar, enjoying a majestic year where he stands atop the run charts, they just struggled to find someone to give company to the steely opener.

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The Proteas fiddled around with Stiaan van Zyl, Stephen Cook and Heino Kuhn, none with much success although Cook did manage to grind out some runs in his own, unique manner. But something was amiss. Elgar and Cook were too one-dimensional to instill fear into the opposition.

Both were fighters, grinders, the sort of players who would dig in and work hard on any surface. Eventually, it boiled down to omitting one who had more weaknesses, which evidently was Cook. Elgar had established himself as the front-runner by then, earning a large number of fans from the Graeme Smith club.

All the while, South Africa barely panicked, well aware that their most promising franchise player was a young World Cup winning opening batsman, Aiden Markram. They carried him around in England, wrapping him in the warmth of cotton wool, away from the sharp James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Arrival of Aiden Markram

As Bangladesh were set to arrive in September, Markram was a definite starter. He had shown enough promise and mettle to warrant selection and Kuhn playing all four Tests in England was merely to make the seat hot enough for Markram when he did arrive.

Champions arrive with glitz and glam and Markram made an equally promising debut, turning into reality the hopes of South African cricket fans, with a mesmerising 97, cut short by a moment of madness from his senior partner, Dean Elgar.

But importantly, the duo had put on 196 for the opening wicket. Not since 2010 had a South African opening pair made a 150+ stand. Elgar and Markram were just made for each other. The elegant, tall Markram is a pretty flamboyant cricketer with a wide array of strokes while Elgar is the more conventional, yet unorthodox knuckle-downer who would place his body in the line of fire in a crisis situation.

If ever South Africa had a dream opening combination, this was one. On paper, they for each other quite well. In reality, they are proving to be pretty much the same. A 196 run stand at Potchefstroom was followed by a terrific 243, the highest by any South African opening pair since Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie churned out a record-breaking 415 in Bangladesh in 2008.

This time, Elgar and Markram both made hundreds, at a frenetic pace, as a clueless, wayward Bangladesh bowling unit dished out looseners at the openers. While Elgar came out all guns blazing, Markram was more watchful at the start.

Elgar’s half-century came off 59 balls and was perhaps the easiest fifty of his life. Even when the Titans opener is in the form of his life, he generally looks awkward at the crease, but today he flowed and how!

Markram complemented him quite well, taking his time to get used to the nature of the surface, which, although green, was a paradise for the batsmen. Once he was in sync with the pace of the surface, there was no stopping Markram.

The newbie unleashed a barrage of drives and pulls, pleasing, technically correct, sublime strokes and matched Elgar by the time he strolled into the 80s. The southpaw did go on to make the hundred first but Markram followed soon enough, breaching the coveted landmark with back to back boundaries off Rubel Hossain.

Elgar fell on 113, against the run of play, to a short-pitched delivery from Subashis Roy, but only after the partnership had soared to 243. Markram hung around with Amla for some more time, teasing to convert his maiden hundred into a double hundred, but fell to a Rubel Hossain inswinger for 143. The 243 run stand is the third highest opening partnership in Test cricket in the first innings after a team has been put in to bat.


In three innings together thus far, Elgar and Markram have made 469 runs and the kind of promise and hope they have aroused, will put South Africa’s headache at the top of the order to rest. They have a huge summer coming up and the role of the openers will be vital going forward. If the Titans duo can manage to maintain their golden streak, visiting teams will have a hard time against the renewed vigour at the top of South Africa’s batting line-up.

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