It will be harsh on Heino Kuhn, but the fourth Test at Old Trafford could be a great opportunity to hand Aiden Markram a Test debut at the top of the order.
Markram was the last to find out about his Proteas Test call-up, getting the call after day three of SA A’s final four-day match against the England Lions in June. Heino Kuhn found out a couple of days previously. It was almost CSA’s way of saying that Kuhn was ahead in the pecking order.
And so he should have been. A perennial performer for the Titans for the best part of a decade, and scores of 200, 105* and 80 against the England Lions, earned him the right to fill that open vacancy next to Dean Elgar at the top of that Proteas batting lineup.
‘If there’s anyone who deserves to get a run, it’s definitely him. He has helped me a lot over the past couple of years and is a true definition of a team player,’ Markram said of Kuhn when I chatted to him about his call-up.
Forget about Kuhn’s age. It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you deserve a go, then you deserve a go. If it wasn’t for Stephen Cook’s call-up as a 33-year-old, then the likes of Kuhn, and all players in their late-20s/early-30s, probably wouldn’t have had the belief to strive for similar honours. Cook deserved his chance, and so did Kuhn. Look at Misbah-ul-Haq and Chris Rogers. Misbah was 33 when his Test career was revitalised, and Rogers was 35 when his Australian stint lifted off. They played 100 Tests between them. A stat presented during the Oval Test revealed that eight players over the age of 35 have played Test cricket for England in this century.
I can understand, then, Faf du Plessis’ sentiments in the press conference after their defeat that Kuhn should be given ‘a fair run’. ‘I think it’ll be fair on Heino to give him the series,’ the skipper said.
You can’t play every Test match thinking it’s your last. If Kuhn does play in the fourth Test, though, then perhaps it should have been communicated to him that he’ll get the whole series to perform. It’s tough enough to make your Test debut in England. A bit of selection security might have settled the nerves.
If it wasn’t communicated to him, then there must be a plan in the back of the selectors’ minds to give Markram a go if the Kuhn plan fails. And to be honest, the Kuhn plan hasn’t gone to plan. His highest score has been 34.
Opening the batting is a thankless task, and he did well to steer the Proteas away from the dangerous new ball against a high-quality England attack in the second Test. But his other scores have read 1, 9, 8, 15 and 11. What is also worrying is the manner in which he’s been getting out. He’s been bowled twice, lbw twice and caught behind twice. It’s not like there’s one problem area to work on; there’s been a variety of ways in which the England bowlers have been getting him out.
So age is not the factor here. But having said that, the Proteas do have a 22-year-old who’s waiting for an opportunity. Markram has been earmarked as a Protea for a number of years now. He’s spent plenty of time in England, captaining against the England Lions and scoring a century. He’s spent a lot of time on the field as a substitute in this Test series, and he’ll be itching to have a go.
The Proteas are 2-1 down, and the only player stepping up in the top five at the moment is Elgar, who tops the South African run-scoring charts with 286 runs at an average of 47.6.
This is a good chance to give Markram a go. He can be South Africa’s wild card. The English have found Kuhn out now, but they won’t know too much about Markram. He’s got a big Test career ahead of him, of that there is little doubt. With a lot of Test cricket to be played at home in the coming months, this could be a great chance for Markram to get a Test cap under his belt.
If Markram makes his debut, it remains to be seen what that means for Kuhn. It will be harsh if he only has three Test caps to his name after years of slugging it out for the Titans. But Markram’s selection won’t just be one for the future, it’s one for the now. He’s got the pedigree, he’s got the form, and with Elgar scoring plenty of runs at the other end at the moment, the Proteas really have nothing to lose by handing Markram a debut at Old Trafford on Friday.
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