“As he walked back to the pavilion at the SuperSport Park, an agonising six runs short of yet another hundred, he stood an individual who had symbolised crazy romanticism and stubborn patriotism in a world where those traits hardly cease to exist anymore”.
It always is a whiff of fresh air. Having spent years decoding and dissecting the routine and the set-patterns followed by the older veterans, the arrival of a younger genius in the side shifts attention, albeit slightly, from the earmarked legends towards the uprising superstar.
“How does he go about his way before a match is scheduled?”
“How many hours of net session does he indulge in before a big-ticket encounter?”
“What about his superstitions? Does he follow any?”
It would have been slightly awkward then, for youngster Aiden Markram when he set foot in the hallowed turfs of the South African dressing room way back in the series against England. Amongst established names, he would surely have felt the unnerving eyes of the media following him in every step that he would take and long before he knew it, word had already spread that he had attained the impossible for his country.
A World Cup title. The first ever South African captain to have the World trophy against his name. So what if it was in the Under-19 stages? He had ventured into a field no one from his country had ventured before and now he was finally realising his dream of featuring in the senior team. It could not have been better. Or so you think.
Two years after winning the title in 2014, Markram was still fighting. Fighting to find a setting in South Africa’s domestic circuit. Lucrative offers from domestic leagues abroad had come his way, but he knew that the base had to be in his country. Even though it was being held of not much value, he had broken the “chokers” norm and it would just have been unfair to bid that adieu and start afresh in a foreign land.
He could have been termed a patriot. An ideal romantic. Or maybe, even crazy. Why wait for a chance that might never really come? Was he so assured that he would indeed be picked to play for South Africa? And even if he was, would he be given a longer rope and be made a permanent member in the side? What if he failed to capitalise on his chance and then never really play for the country again? Like his teammates, he too was advised to sail into the foreign shores and set up his foundation there. At least, he would be assured of a future. Some left, but he remained put- aware that one day his hard work, belief and dreams would all materialise.
In Centurion against India, we came across a youngster who was not only extremely talented but also extremely focused. He waited for his shots with a monk-like patience and never seemed in a hurry to emulate the shot-making heroics of his illustrious teammates. The good balls were defended; the bad ones were mercilessly smashed away for a boundary. Leaning forward, awaiting another poor bowl from Mohammad Shami, we saw glimpses of a character who was calculating his shots before executing them. As he drove them away to mid-off, just as he had imagined he would, the sigh of slight relief that overcame his face did not escape the viewers around. And as he raised his bat for the sixth time in seven innings, he would have silently smirked at all the sceptics that had doubted him back then.
A 97 on debut against Bangladesh. A 143 in the next Test. 125 in the very next innings. An average of 73.28. The very first South African to score two hundreds in his first three Test matches. The star who could possibly vindicate former Protean coach’s prediction of playing along for the next ten years. One who has silently but surely earned his right to share the dressing room with the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. And one who never really gave up on his aspirations by choosing to take the easier way ahead towards fame and fortune.
As he walked back to the pavilion at the SuperSport Park, an agonising six runs short of yet another hundred, he stood an individual who had symbolised crazy romanticism and stubborn patriotism in a world where those traits hardly cease to exist anymore.