Town - He may only have one Test
cap under his belt, but something about Pieter Malan suggests that his place
at the top of the Proteas order is far from a temporary fix.
The 30-year-old Cape journeyman
made his debut in the second Test against England at Newlands last week and to
say that he impressed, both on and off the field, would be an
While he played an
uncharacteristic shot in the first innings to be dismissed for 5, Malan was a
wall of concentration, patience and impenetrable defence in the second as he
occupied the crease for 369 minutes and 288 balls.
That knock of 84 was not
enough to help the Proteas avoid defeat, but it was a clear indication that
Malan has the right ingredients for Test cricket. In a situation where the
South Africans desperately needed character, Malan answered the call
His message after the match,
where he opened up on his long, winding road to international cricket, was
equally impressive and it showed a maturity that comes with years of having to
Malan has now booked his place in
this Test team for the rest of the series and, if he continues to take his
chances, he will make the opening position his own alongside Dean Elgar.
Unfortunately for Malan, the only
other Test obligations for the Proteas outside of the England series this year
come in the form of a two-match series in the West Indies in July.
With the T20 World Cup scheduled
for September in Australia, white ball cricket will be the priority for the
Proteas in 2020.
Malan, though, has finally
knocked the door down on the Test stage and he will be looking at the next four
or five years as a potentially career-defining period of representing his
While few can argue with that, it
does beg the question: What does it all mean for Aiden Markram?
Now 25, it has been a frustrating
period for South Africa's 2014 U-19 World Cup-winning captain.
The talent of the player has
never once been in question, but Markram has shown an inability to convert
starts into innings of match-winning substance for over a year now.
He did not score a Test century
in 2019, averaging just 28.61 from
his 13 innings,
while he also endured a frustrating World Cup that saw him backed in six
innings without ever getting beyond 50.
A moment of madness when he punched
a door after two ducks in the second Test against India in Pune in September
then saw Markram ruled out of that series and December's Mzansi Super League,
while a separate finger injury picked up on his return to the side in the
Boxing Day Test against England is his latest setback.
Markram's Test average has dipped
below 40 and he is now far from certain of getting his place back when he does
return from injury.
He, like Temba Bavuma, might have
to go back to the drawing board and card significant runs at franchise level
before he gets another opportunity in the Test side.
It is almost unfathomable given
the obvious ability and how strongly Markram started his Test career, but at
this new juncture of South African cricket it seems that selections will be
based on form and what is best for the present.
The other option would be to
consider moving Markram down the batting order, though that seems a congested
Zubayr Hamza is currently trying
to find his feet at No 3, while batting coach Jacques Kallis has spoken
publicly about how highly he rates 26-year-old Keegan Petersen.
Petersen's selection seems
inevitable and a matter of 'when' and not 'if'.
Skipper Faf du Plessis is horribly
out of form, but he will keep his place as long as he keeps playing, while the
other middle-order slot belongs to newcomer Rassie van der Dussen, who has also
impressed since his Test debut on Boxing Day.
With Quinton de Kock's batting
abilities allowing the Proteas to field a specialist allrounder, the road back
to the Test side is a potentially complicated one for Markram.
When he is fully fit, it is
imperative that he hits the ground running and makes a play at being included
in the shorter formats for the Proteas.
Markram has shown time and time
again at domestic level that, when in form, he can be a devastating weapon but
now is the time for him to start justifying that hype at international level.
are other talents waiting patiently.