Aiden Markram is enjoying a fabulous time with the Proteas setup. Following an outstanding debut Test series, where he racked up 255 runs in two Tests with a hundred and 97, Markram started his ODI career on a positive note, smashing a half-century from no.4 and picking up two wickets with the ball.
The young, talented Titans player was always touted for big things from the moment he led South Africa to the under-19 World Cup. His rise and stardom seemed inevitable as he kept pounding the runs at franchise level. In England, the Proteas decided to keep him in and around the setup and it paid rich dividends as Heino Kuhn failed to nail down his spot in the side.
Once the doors were open, Markram wasn’t going to let the opportunity go by. He sizzled on his Test debut and in the next Test which prompted questions when he was omitted from the ODI squad named. However, after sealing the series 2-0 and Bangladesh appearing as clueless as on the day they landed in South Africa, the home side had leeway to experiment and Markram was called up for Amla, who was rested.
Contrary to popular belief, Markram did not open the batting as South Africa resorted to Temba Bavuma at the top of the order. At no.4, he was zeroed in oncoming behind Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Faf du Plessis. Chances of Markram getting more than a few overs slimmed as Bavuma and de Kock raised a century partnership. But two quick wickets and the Titans opener was at the crease, in a new role in the middle-order.
Debutants are known to be nervous, particularly in adjusting to the demands of International cricket and the pressure of expectations. In Markram’s case, the pressure was even more as the public had long before hailed him as a future great. But the former under-19 skipper showed none of the nerves on his Test debut and his ODI one was no different.
Nine balls into his debut innings in coloured clothes for the Proteas and Markram was stepping out to slog Mehidy Hasan over long-on. With du Plessis as well pressing the accelerator button, Markram quickly got into his zone.
Being a tall batsman, the Titans player is a wonderful leg-side player and has shots all around the wicket. What stood out on Sunday, though, was his amazing temperament and character. Batting out of position, he showed little discomfort and took the field running.
The singles kept pouring in as Bangladesh bizarrely tried to contain the pair with part-time bowlers and defensive fields. Markram had played enough against these bowlers in the past month or so to know exactly what to expect. He was content with nudging the singles and placing his skipper on strike, who went about playing the big shots.
But when Mahmudullah delivers a nothing half-tracker, you got to put that away and Markram did, with aplomb. He plonked his back foot into the crease and dished out a fabulous pull to send the ball soaring over the mid-wicket fence. The next ball raced through extra cover as all elegance and poise he had built over the years came to the fore.
By now, Markram was up and running, and had matched du Plessis’ scoring rate. Back to back boundaries off Mehidy Hasan took him to a debut half-century, off 47 balls. He soon ran himself out with a non-existent double, when on 66, making his ODI debut dismissal quite similar to his Test debut one.
The young star wasn’t done though and returned to roll his arm over, grabbing the vital wickets of Shakib-al-Hasan and Sabbir Rahman in his second over. His three-over spell ended with figures of 2/18 and South Africa, in search of an all-rounder for long, had suddenly stumbled upon an unlikely one.
Possible role in the lead up to the World Cup
Bowling may not be his main forte, but with JP Duminy’s prowess on the wane, Markram has a good chance of fitting the bill as a middle-order batsman and part-time spinner.
Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock are set in stone at the top and the only way Markram can squeeze in is if Amla moves to no.3. Given his scoring rate issues in the middle overs, that seems an unlikely move and du Plessis’ position would also need to be changed.
This means that the sole spot Markram could aim for is the no.4 or no.5 slot in the ODI line-up depending upon the game situation. Obviously, with a better platform, South Africa would want AB de Villiers walking to the wicket but otherwise, no.4 seems the right place to induct the youngster.
Duminy’s lacklustre returns will finally be under scrutiny if Markram can grab onto the few chances that are sure to come his way in the next few series’. He is undoubtedly the future of South African cricket and although he is a natural opener, his more than adequate talents against spinners means that 4 could be the right place for the youngster.
Replacing Duminy, though, is a pain since South Africa know that the veteran batsman can turn his arm over quite well. Markram may not be as good with the ball but initial impression is that the Titans batsman is a more than a handy option to chip in with a couple of overs. Given the likes of Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo and Wayne Parnell being in and around the setup, South Africa may not need more than 3-4 overs from Duminy or Markram. This puts the two in a direct head-on battle for one spot based on their batting abilities and given current form and age, there is only one answer.
Ottis Gibson, South Africa’s newly appointed head coach, may want to fiddle around with options in the next two series’ as well before zeroing in on one of the two. Markram could also be tried as a no.3 or an opener, but at the moment that looks unlikely. The emphasis the former England bowling coach has placed on trying out new talent augers well for the likes of Markram. He is a superstar in the making and needs as many games as possible to settle down in the squad before the all-important World Cup in England two years later.