Aiden Markram was the last to find out about his Proteas call-up, but he’s finally there after taking the longer route to the top.
When Markram wasn’t selected for any Coke Weeks three years ago, his prospects of reaching the highest level were limited to the most abstract of dreams.
In an interview I had with the then 20-year-old two years ago, Markram admitted that he was ‘a little bit negative’ about his cricket career. To say that it was inevitable that he would play for the Proteas back then would have been far from the mark.
It took a shot in the dark to bring Markram out of the wilderness, and that blind ammunition came from Ray Jennings, who entrusted him to not only open the batting for his SA U19 side, but to captain them in the 2014 World Cup. We all know what happened next.
The dust settled somewhat as he continued his cricket development at Tuks while obtaining a B.Comm degree. It’s fair to say he’s taken the more complicated route to the top. But, for the first time in his career, he’s now been pencilled into a Proteas squad.
‘I found out after day three of the England Lions game,’ Markram tells me on the London Underground tube in a fleeting opportunity to take a break from the game. ‘I was very surprised, as all the other guys had received their calls a couple of days earlier.’
There’s every chance, then, that the 71 he scored in that match in Canterbury last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Heino Kuhn, his Titans teammate at the top of the order and a perennial achiever for the franchise, set himself in Proteas selection stone when he notched up a double century for SA A in the preceding contest against Hampshire.
Markram scored a century in that match himself, but it’s clear that Kuhn already won the race for what was shaping up to be an intriguing battle for selection. Kuhn is now in line make his debut at the top of the order alongside Dean Elgar, with Markram confirming that he’s there as batting cover for Faf du Plessis, who might miss the first Test due to the birth of his child.
‘Heino and I have never felt any tension in terms of competing for spots,’ Markram says. ‘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.
‘I was told I’ll be there as a back-up batsmen for Faf,’ he admits. ‘But I haven’t discussed my role with anyone and I’m not expecting anything to happen. I think there are players ahead of me in the queue that really deserve to play.’
Markram enjoyed a terrific first full season in the Sunfoil Series, with 565 runs at an average of 51.36, but he’s arguably still finding his feet at professional level. Game time or not in the upcoming four-match Test series with England, it’s just the next step of his cricketing development in a career that is finally shaping into something special.
‘I don’t think anyone would turn down an opportunity like that down,’ he concludes. ‘I’m extremely excited to join the squad. There’s going to be so many people and opportunities to learn from and, as a fairly young player, I don’t think I could ask for more.’
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images