Cape Town – Question: If Hashim Amla gets the “old firm” nod as Quinton de Kock’s opening partner at the outset of South Africa’s CWC 2019 campaign, does that mean an automatic side-lines bib for Aiden Markram?
Answer: It shouldn’t.
There is a very good chance now, of course, that Markram will be preferred anyway to the veteran, out-of-sorts Amla at the very front of the order.
But there is still Amla’s excellent record for heavy run-scoring – across the international formats -- in England to consider, not to mention his array of highly productive opening alliances with his left-handed batsman-wicketkeeper companion.
It would be unwise, however, to rigidly deem Markram, who has the potential to be a major surprise package at this World Cup, as only suited to a berth among the top three despite his greater familiarity with that territory in both Test and ODI cricket.
While his decisive stroke-play, technical orthodoxy in many respects and willingness to give the ball a hefty thump when it is at its hardest is already well-known, the 24-year-old (who has just finished a highly successful short stint with Hampshire as excellent acclimatisation for the World Cup) is also no slouch when it comes to more of a mid-innings or finishing capacity at one-day level.
Frankly, he should be in the mix for a spot anywhere within the Proteas’ top six, even if the team’s strategists decide De Kock-Amla is the way to go at the top.
Markram made his ODI debut as a No 4, for example, against Bangladesh at East London in late 2017, and looked well at ease there – even given the relative frailties of the opposition – in striking 66 at well over a run a ball.
There is also the famous instance in the just-completed South African domestic summer of the strongly self-motivated batsman producing perhaps the most talked-about innings of the franchise campaign – from the No 5 berth.
Taking guard at a ropey 22 for three for the Titans against the Cobras at Newlands in the Momentum One-Day Cup, Markram proceeded to lash a Viv Richards-like 169 off 129 deliveries, including 15 fours and seven sixes, and posting a world record sixth-wicket partnership of 272 with Farhaan Behardien.
He was hitting the ball more firmly and further as his knock progressed, only being dismissed in the 50th over, which told enough of a story of his ability to be a devastating ropes-clearer at a very late stage of an innings.
So in that respect, shouldn’t he be regarded as a clear and present selection threat to, for instance, the No 5 or 6 spots in the SA line-up most traditionally staffed by JP Duminy and David Miller, in either order?
While both incumbents of those positions deserve to be in the 15-strong World Cup party, it is not as though the pair are bastions of especially notable consistency: they have plenty of personal trough spells to go with their respective highs despite a hefty combined total of 314 ODI appearances.
On the plus side for the mercurial Miller – capable of amazing, spectator health-endangering blitzkriegs on a good day – he traditionally fares decently in ODIs in England, where he averages 48 as opposed to an overall career figure of 38.96.
Duminy, by contrast, has long struggled in those climes, as his stats there (21.61, and not even a half-century) are significantly down on his SA career average of just over 37.
A string to his bow, though, is the partial all-rounder element he provides, through his ability as a second Proteas spinner … often enough capable of offering four or fives mid-innings overs to change tempo and sometimes earn bonus strikes, into the bargain.
That said, Markram has occasional off-spinning credentials of his own, as evidenced by quite regular deployment by his county side in the last few weeks – including 3/39 from a maximum 10-over spell against Middlesex at the Rose Bowl on April 23.
When he plays for the Proteas, too, you are instantly giving them a fielder to place among their premier two or three for overall quality.
Markram up front in the order … or bust?
I, for one, don’t think the SA brains trust should be so restrictive in their thinking.
Perhaps they have no plans to be that.
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