SA v Aus

Published on March 5th, 2018 | by Rohit Sankar

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Aiden Markram the silver lining as Proteas fightback

“That he coped blows physically (was hit by Pat Cummins), mentally and weathered to storm to come out and score 143 quality runs show exactly what mettle he is made of”.

Every batsman who hits International cricket has a coming-of-age knock. If it was the Adelaide blockathon for Faf du Plessis, it was Melbourne for JP Duminy and Edgbaston for Graeme Smith. Touted as the next big thing in South African cricket, Aiden Markram’s World Cup win as under-19 skipper took his reputation sky high.

A sensational start to his Test career where he made hundreds against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe further reinstated the belief. However, a rather dull India series – despite a terrific back-against-the-wall knock at Centurion – created doubts about his temperament.

Markram was getting starts but throwing it away nonchalantly. The trend continued in the ODIs where he was unnecessarily pushed into skippering and his batting took a downward dive.

As Mitchell Starc and co breathed fire at Durban, South Africa thought the only way they could save themselves was to go into blockathon mode. The hosts needed 417 to win and day four appeared to be the final day of the Test when they were reduced to 49/4.

Not only had they lost the three pioneers of their blockathon movement – Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers – but also had to cope with chirpy Aussie fielders and a fiery bowling attack.

All hope had seemingly deserted the Proteas as they languished at 49/4 staring down the abyss. Yet, by tea, they were 167/5 with Aiden Markram on 85 and Quinton de Kock appearing much more resolute on 21. The revival had been sparked by Markram and Theunis de Bruyn in a thrilling 87 run stand headlined by Mitchell Starc’s verbal barrage at de Bruyn.

To his credit, de Bruyn weathered the storm and Markram showed just why he is the future in terms of captaincy with his cool-headed approach despite the heat in the middle. He greeted Lyon with wristy flicks and nimble feet while focussed on playing with a straight bat against the seamers.

Mitchell Starc had wrecked havoc from around the wicket using his reverse swing in the first innings, but a sublime Markram put head over the ball and drove him persistently till he was taken off the attack. Cummins was met with disdainful pull shots and Hazlewood was respected with well-judged leaves.

Markram was seen maturing over the course of his third Test hundred, a knock that would go on to be a turning point in his cricketing career. It’s not often that a young batsman stands up to this formidable Aussie attack. Markram not only looked composed in mindset and solid in technique, but also rallied together Theunis de Bruyn and Quinton de Kock to fight with him.

The latter in particular was interesting for de Kock had been struggling for a long time coming but with Markram’s infectious energy rubbing off, de Kock came into his own and smashed a valiant half-century, his first in sixteen innings’, and remained unbeaten on 81 at stumps although he will rue the fact that he lost four batsmen in the space of seven runs.

Despite a huge loss looming, South Africa will take plenty of heart from the fight – headed by Aiden Markram – they put up.

“A South African cricketing star has been born. The two best batting techniques in South African cricket that I have seen came from Barry Richards and Jacques Kallis. Aiden’s batting technique is as good as theirs. His hundred today is one of the best I have seen from a South African batsman. It was scored under extreme pressure and against an Australian bowling attack which is one of the best I have seen in world cricket for many years. His temperament under constant Aussie pressure was excellent”, Ali Bacher had told ESPNCricinfo after Markram’s brilliant knock on day 4.

The pressure was for real. Aussies were in the face, blowing words into Markram after he ran out AB de Villiers for nought. “We spoke to Aiden about running out their best player and one of the best players in the world,” Tim Paine said. “It was a huge wicket and to have him (de Villiers) run out for zero gets everyone excited and the boys were pumped up. It was nothing aggressive, just reminding him of what he had done to get him off his game.”

He, however, added at the end that “it didn’t work”. Such was Markram’s mood that he enjoyed the battle in the middle and appeared as calm as ever even after the fiasco at tea break which saw David Warner take on Quinton de Kock as revealed by a CCTV footage.

“Obviously it is natural when you play Australia that there is a lot of chat on the field. It is something that I really don’t mind. It keeps me in the game, keeps me really motivated. I think it is something that is part of the game, and makes a success more rewarding,” Markram said of  Aussies’ relentless sledging.

That he coped blows physically (was hit by Pat Cummins), mentally and weathered to storm to come out and score 143 quality runs show exactly what mettle he is made of. Even though South Africa might go into the second Test 1-0 down in all likelihood Markram’s coming-of-age is the biggest positive they would take back from Durban.

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About the Author

mm

A cricket enthusiast striving to convey the finer details of the game in a capsule. I hope to present a bird's eye view of the game as I see it to the readers. PS: I am smitten by the likes of ABD but crush on pace bowlers who can make the ball talk.



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