Proteas’ Markram: The pressure to be special

2017-09-27 10:30
Aiden Markram (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Feel no pressure, Aiden Markram.

But truth be told, South Africa could do with more than just the new opening batsman “looking the part” in his earliest exposure to Test cricket ... it would be even better if he very swiftly reveals himself to fall into the category of rare find.

Naturally, the 22-year-old from the Titans will get his fair chance to bed down; expectations will not be set too high of him as he is blooded in the two-Test series against Bangladesh, beginning in Potchefstroom on Thursday, and presumably also onward into the bigger series against India.

But there must also be an increasing restlessness, among the national selectors, coaches and enthusiasts alike, for the country to unearth a fresh banker, an excitement machine, for longer-term purposes.

The cupboard in young prospects has been unusually lean in recent times; Quinton de Kock is probably the last baby-faced gem to come genuinely to the fore at the highest level, and he is now well into his 25th year.

Not only that, but De Kock has also become the near-runaway leading choice as wicketkeeper in all formats, spreading his burden of responsibility and creating some conflicting views on where it is best to station him in the Test batting order.

In a further sign, arguably, that meaningful young talent has dried up just a bit, South Africa have also dabbled, to no sufficiently enduring reward, with first-class stalwarts like Stephen Cook (now 34) and Heino Kuhn (33) to try to stiffen the blade-work in the Test XI.

With the notable exception, often, of Markram, the supposed next best crop - the SA ‘A’ side - hasn’t exactly been producing stellar results or blistering individual performances from batsmen.

Without too much fuss being made over it yet, the Proteas’ specialist batting department in the five-day environment is looking increasingly long in the tooth, especially if you factor in someone like AB de Villiers, the long-time absentee - last Test some 21 months ago - scheduled to make his return when the Indians arrive.

Temba Bavuma apart (he is 27), just about all of the other “established” players have gone past the 30-mark - and in several instances quite some time ago.

Dean Elgar is 30, Hashim Amla 34, and skipper Faf du Plessis and De Villiers both 33.

The unfavourable phenomenon - draining of the sands of time so commonly accompanying at least partial, near-inevitable dwindling of powers - seems to be evident statistically, too.

Although a monumental, match-saving eight-hour vigil for 189 by Amla for the Cape Cobras in Bloemfontein a few days back is a welcome sign for assignments to come, the once-imperious dominator of the Test crease has been in a discernible cycle of slow decline, like it or not, stats-wise.

The 107-cap player sports one century from his last 20 Test innings, two in the previous 20, three before that ... and as many as six in the even earlier block.

Coincidence, simply a form-related thing?

Maybe, but it does appear to serve as some kind of evidence that Amla’s heyday lies behind him.

As for Du Plessis, it has been 18 innings since he last reached three figures in the five-day arena, and keep in mind also that he is now saddled with the chore of leadership of the Proteas in all three formats - and in a looming season of particularly swollen activity.

Then there is De Villiers, who will steel up the middle order - certainly in reputation terms, of course - from the Indian series onward, but also hasn’t batted in Tests since January 2016 against England at Centurion.

It had been 14 knocks since his own last century even as he entered his hiatus, and there is still a small part of me that wonders whether a little bit died in this massive talent emotionally when South Africa bowed out, amidst much angst and no lack of background controversy, at the semi-final phase of the 2015 World Cup.

As far as prospects for a rosy immediate future are concerned, there is just a nervy little sense, I suspect, of “Markram or bust” for vibrant new blood right now.

The rookie will have to try to shove all that to one side as he takes guard for the first time in a Test match at Senwes Park.

He won’t become a Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock, Jacques Kallis or Herschelle Gibbs overnight; some wags might submit a week or two would be OK, thanks.

Pressure? Did anyone mention pressure?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    bangladesh  |  proteas  |  aiden markram  |  cricket


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