South Africa have unearthed a gem in Aiden Markram, says former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX.
Proteas coach Ottis Gibson could not have scripted his entry into South African cricket in a better way, with a dream summer having ended for Faf du Plessis and his band of warriors. It was an emotional rollercoaster ride that grabbed the attention of even those who don’t see Test cricket as an attractive product. By all accounts, only a World Cup triumph will top the last three months.
There is no doubt Gibson will be aware that the 2019 World Cup, to be played in the UK, will prove the next big mountain to climb in terms of fulfilling dreams. It’s a tough task, but not beyond the capabilities of this squad. However, in order to continue on the winning way and maintain momentum, certain critical components need to be keenly monitored – mostly notably the batting lineup.
After India mauled South Africa 5-1 in the ODI series, you could dress it up any which way, but our batting was a disaster for some inexplicable reason. The crux of the matter is that we have experienced a batting problem in recent times in the 50-over format, with strategic thinking leaving much to be desired. In stark contrast, South Africa’s Test batting looks as strong as ever, with the home side having cruised to a 3-1 series victory against Australia.
Over and above top leadership from Du Plessis and total commitment from every squad member, the emergence of 23-year-old Markram to partner Dean Elgar at the top of the order was a massive boost. Elgar’s serious guts and tenacity has been the perfect foil for the gifted Markram. The latter is the best young batsman in the world at the moment. He will go on to become a great player and will continue to average over 50 in Tests.
Markram is growing in each and every series and, with quality batsmen around him, he will learn quicker than most. In terms of his batting style, he’s quite unique in the sense that he doesn’t have a trigger movement. As time unfolds and he plays on different pitches, he may well adapt his approach but, for now, his way is really working.
Markram’s meteoric rise has come at a time when Hashim Amla’s ability to produce a big innings for the Proteas consistently, when needed, may have begun to wane because he is not as technically sound as he once was. Batting at No 3 demands young eyes and nimble feet, and Amla is on the wrong end of the spectrum. I’m not suggesting that he won’t still make a significant contribution for South Africa with the bat from time to time, but the bottom line is the 35-year-old’s level of consistency will drop in the Test arena.
AB de Villiers still has a thirst for runs and is in a class of his own. He again underlined how critical he is to the Proteas and is irreplaceable. Meanwhile, Temba Bavuma has surely done enough to prove to his detractors that, technically and mentally, he is the man for the job in the critical No 6 spot. With Quinton de Kock at No 7 and, playing as well as ever, the batting lineup looks potent. However, it is the next four slots that will prove a source of concern for Gibson and Du Plessis.
I’ve long believed that the names on the batting card which appear between No 7 to 11 are the men who win Tests more often than not. We so often overlook the quick 40-odd from a No 7, a gutsy 20 runs made by a tailender, or a gritty innings from the nightwatchman for a tight few overs in fading light against the new cherry.
We saw some amazing batting from the top order and awesome bowling from Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander this series, but the devil for India and Australia was in the detail of the men down the order. It was in those moments that both Test series were won. Going forward, however, Gibson needs to demand even more from the likes of Philander, Maharaj and Rabada when it comes to wielding the willow because it can add depth to our batting.
Philander is very talented, with a highest Test innings of 74, and Maharaj is capable of attaining a Test average of 25. Meanwhile, Rabada has been fantastic as a nightwatchman and some of his contributions have proved invaluable. When bowlers down the order make contributions with the bat, they can either win or save matches for their teams. If I were in Gibson’s shoes, I’d really work hard on my batting from a bottom end. In so doing, I believe the tailenders will learn to understand their importance in that facet of the game.
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