• No World Cup for Markram?

    Aiden Markram’s incredible back-to-back centuries (followed by a quick-fire 85 on Friday) in the One-Day Cup have garnered him ringing endorsements on social media to make the Proteas World Cup squad, but SIMON LEWIS thinks it’s all a little bit premature.

    Aiden Markram? A wonderful, exquisite batsman who has the potential to be a truly great player.

    He looks good at the wicket, has the ability to hit boundaries and dominate attacks… and his last three scores in domestic cricket have been 169, 139 and 85 (the latter off 43 balls).

    Everyone seems to be calling for him to go to the World Cup, as he’s ‘in the form of his life’… but ‘everyone’ is wrong to jump to this conclusion. Here’s why.

    Yes, Markram has answered the call and responded magnificently after being dropped/rested. It has been a world-class effort to score big runs in the One-Day Cup, and he has truly dominated the domestic attacks. Full marks to him.

    To put that in context, however, the Warriors’ Sinethemba Qeshile scored 121 not out and 88 in back-to-back innings in the last week as well, so other batsmen are also putting their hands up and making runs.

    Faf du Plessis recently commented about the big gap between domestic and international cricket when questioned about possible changes to the Test squad in light of so many players scoring big runs in the 4-Day Franchise Series. Surely this also applies to the One-Day Cup and ODI cricket?

    Markram’s recent run-scoring spree should not put him in a sleeper seat on the Proteas’ business class flight to Heathrow, although his fans will be desperate to argue that he deserves it. Why not? For a start, although he’s in great form NOW, the World Cup is more than two months away. That form could be gone by then (as with anyone in the current squad).

    The selectors also have to base their selections on a lot more than the form of the past week. They need to look at Markram’s track record, based on the chances he has had in ODIs.

    His current ODI record is best ignored when it comes to selection criteria, as only a mother could love that average (407 runs coming in 16 innings at an average of 25.43, and with just one half-century to his credit – against Bangladesh at Buffalo Park  – when the Proteas smashed 369-6 off their 50 overs).

    READ ALSO: Markram: My mind is not on Proteas selection

    Depending on the make-up of the World Cup squad (ie how many all-rounders, one or two keepers, how many spinners?), it could be a shoot-out for two or three spots between Markram, Amla, Rassie van der Dussen and Reeza Hendricks.

    Amla… tough call. On form, he shouldn’t be selected, however, class is class, and with his ability and knowledge of English conditions (and no doubt a massive determination to sign off from international cricket with a World Cup triumph) there is the hope that he might come off big time in England.

    That is a huge call facing the selectors, but I’d give Amla the green light. If you’re going to take a gamble for the World Cup, gamble on Hash!

    Van der Dussen… still new to ODIs, but he’s batted superbly in his few chances to date and has shown what he is capable of, and he averages 91.66 (it is very early to blow that trumpet too hard, of course!). In six innings he’s scored three 50s, including a 93, and has been not out three times. He has put his hand up and shown what he can do, and his experience in T20 leagues in other countries should stand him in good stead in England.

    Hendricks… he has looked the part for my money, puts bad balls away clinically, but also knows how to build an innings and pace himself. His average is, however, only a little above Markram (29.53 vs 25.43), but the key thing is that in the same number of innings (16), Hendricks has scored a century and two half-centuries. He has only scored 36 more runs than Markram, so their weight of runs is pretty even… but where I prefer Hendricks is that when he gets a start he converts it into a bigger score.

    He should have scored more runs, though.

    To Markram’s credit, he seldom ‘fails’ in ODIs, getting 20s and 30s almost every time he bats. That shows his incredible ability and potential, but it doesn’t help the team if you don’t convert.

    READ ALSO: Markram cannot be all things to all men

    In any team, the No 1 to No 4 batsmen NEED to be the big contributors on the scoresheet. It’s no good saying, oh, he’s scoring 20s and 30s, he’ll come right, keep the faith. No ways – if a player is underachieving for the position they have been selected in, then you cannot carry them in that position.

    Of course, Markram has the potential to go to England and be the top run-scorer in the tournament if he gets his ODI game plan together. The selectors probably hold that same view and will gamble on him. He could do it, but if I had to put money on it I would bet large against him, as he hasn’t shown he can produce the goods in ODIs.

    Is it fair to choose him ahead of another player, just because you believe in him? What are the selection criteria? And if you take him and he fails, do you keep persevering with him after the World Cup because you ‘know’ he will come good? The selectors are in danger of showing themselves to be extremely biased towards him, and that could rankle other players.

    Say what you like about the reasons players go Kolpak (most people ‘blame’ it on transformation), but I believe players leave South Africa since they are frustrated with the selectors not giving fair-handed opportunities across the board. Think about it: if Hendricks and Van der Dussen hadn’t been given debuts in the last year, there would be no other batsmen with ODI experience to choose from. That’s a concern on many levels.

    People also keep talking about Markram as if he’s this bright young talent. Nope – he’s 24, so he is no longer a kid. At 24 you are no longer a ‘prospect’… unless you’re a leggie! 

    The tragedy (in cricketing terms) is that the selectors should be able to ‘gamble’ on taking Markram to the World Cup, because man, can he bat! He can tear attacks apart. He definitely should be selected as a one-day ‘wild card’ to add oomph to the innings… but the problem is that the rest of the batting is so fragile that it would turn his selection into a massive gamble.

    Would you ‘gamble’ with Markram and Amla in the squad for a must-win World Cup? Considering that in the last year Du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi have all had serious injury problems… and Hendricks and Van der Dussen are both very inexperienced. Do you want to throw more risks into that pot?

    The potential in the Proteas side is staggering (they are such talented cricketers), but everything is balancing on a knife edge… so is this the time to risk selecting a brilliant batsman who hasn’t yet performed in ODIs?

    I actually hope to see Markram’s name on the flight list, because he is capable of working wonders at the World Cup, but I wouldn’t be willing to take that gamble myself. If my job as selector were at stake, I would not sleep easily from the end of May through to the middle of July if Markram were to be part of the squad.

    Simon’s Proteas World Cup squad (in batting order)
    1) Quinton de Kock
    2) Reeza Hendricks
    3) Rassie van der Dussen
    4) Faf du Plessis
    5) JP Duminy
    6) Hashim Amla
    7) David Miller
    8) Andile Phehlukwayo
    9) Kagiso Rabada
    10) Lungi Ngidi
    11) Imran Tahir
    12) Dale Steyn
    13) Wiaan Mulder
    14) Anrich Nortje
    15) Gihahn Cloete (backup keeper, and a leftie)

    Start with this side against England with the aim of scoring big runs and banking on Duminy to get through 10 overs. Our problem always lies with the batsmen, so make sure the side is packed full of quality batting. The bowlers will be under pressure if someone has a bad day, but if you want to gamble on the World Cup, don’t gamble by playing too few batsmen.

    The bowlers are the stars, so give them runs to play with. They will deliver… but you need big runs on the board.

    If Amla fails after two or three matches, bring Mulder in as a batting all-rounder. If the batsmen are on fire, bring in Steyn or Nortje as extra firepower in the attack. The batting order can be juggled depending on the match situation, with a lot of lefties to frustrate the opposition.

    Keep Amla in the middle order – if he’s going to fail with the bat, don’t let it be early to put the team under pressure. And who knows how well he might do playing in the middle order.

    If Markram had produced the goods in ODIs and were added to this squad they would be world-beaters, without doubt, but there are still serious question marks about him as an ODI batsman.

    In tough situations like this, Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry sums it up best for the Proteas selectors: ‘You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky…?’

    Well… do you, selectors?

    Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

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    Simon Lewis