England in SA

What does Malan breakthrough mean for Markram?

2020-01-10 16:01
Aiden Markram (Getty)
Aiden Markram (Getty)

Cape 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 understatement. 

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 emphatically. 

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 be patient. 

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 country. 

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 space. 

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.

There are other talents waiting patiently.

Read more on:    proteas  |  aiden markram  |  cricket`


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