Criticism of Aiden Markram is premature. He is still the right man to open South Africa’s batting order alongside Dean Elgar in Test cricket. The Proteas don’t really have an alternative during the ongoing series against India, unless Theunis de Bruyn or Temba Bavuma are elevated to the top of the order.
De Bruyn opened the batting, unsuccessfully, on Test debut against New Zealand in 2017. Two years earlier, Bavuma was at the top of the order against India in Delhi. He managed 22 and 34 in that fourth Test, against an opposition bowling attack that still comprises Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Bavuma, though, has averaged a mere 16 in the middle order this series. Suggesting he be moved to a position far more specialist than No 4 or 5 is not the debate here.
This argument centres around affording Markram scope and time. This is an opening batsman, of course, who struck twin tons in sub-continental conditions less than a month ago. Yes, that 161 and 100 against India A and the Indian Board President’s XI were not challenged by Ashwin, Shami and others. But they reiterated Markram’s value.
If not Bavuma, this is the Proteas’ future Test captain. Markram, remember, led the Proteas during February 2018’s ODI series against Australia. This is the makings of a successor option to Du Plessis. Casting him to the sidelines, on the back of one poor series in arguably the most taxing conditions and circumstances, would undo the promise and the plans.
Markram’s plight is not dissimilar to fellow opening batsman Stephen Cook’s brief Test career, though about eight years sooner. Cook was 33 years old on debut against England in 2016. Fine centuries against the English, Australia and Sri Lanka followed, but were effectively forgotten in the wake of a string of low scores against New Zealand in March 2017.
True, Cook’s unattractive age also tolled, but the 25-year-old Markram must not be treated the same. His last nine Test innings have yielded just 182 runs. This lowly number was accentuated by twin ducks in last week’s second Test in Pune.
Markram is not an ageing Cook or Heino Kuhn, whose tenure as Test opening batsman lasted a mere four matches in 2017. He is not one of three or four middle-order options. He is one of a precious few openers and, with no obvious alternatives other than, maybe Pieter Malan, significant slack must be cut.
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