We discuss five SA A players with an imminent Proteas future, featured in the latest edition of SA Cricket magazine.
Written by Simnikiwe Xabanisa, a respected freelance sports writer, back in May 2017.
Apart from being played in the lengthy shadow of the ICC Champions Trophy, the South Africa A side’s tour of England – a three-match limited-overs series and one four-day game against the England Lions – was disrupted by the rain that is such a consistent in the country.
The two planned warm-up games for the limited-overs series were washed up, and after they went 2-0 down in the series proper by nine wickets and 144 runs, rain again intervened to rob them of the chance to at least get on the board.
In a way the series almost conspired to hide the collective light of four talents the selectors were keeping a close eye on, four-day ‘Test’ captain Aiden Markram, limited-overs captain Khaya Zondo and all-rounders Jason Smith and Wiaan Mulder.
Of the four, only Markram out and out impressed in the limited-overs series with a decent all-round showing in the second game, scoring 50 (49 balls, eight fours and a six) and picking up career best figures of 4-45 with the ball.
But if the opinions of the leading coaches in this country are anything to go by, these four players’ chance to knock loudly on the Proteas tour will come again.
Aiden Markram (22)
Better known as the captain of the SA U19 side that won the U19 World Cup in 2014, the story of how Markram – who would also go on to be Player of the Tournament – got there in the first place is an intriguing one of how real talent can be hidden in plain sight from certain coaches.
Ray Jennings, who was coach of the SA U19 team at the time, takes up the story: ‘I wasn’t happy with the Titans’ Coke Week side so I called Murray Coetzee, who I know from schooldays, to say there had to be better players than the ones picked, and Murray said there was a kid called Markram who’d scored a lot of runs for Pretoria Boys High.
‘I called Aiden and told him to come to my camp early the following next year. He was at the beach when I spoke to him because he hadn’t made the schools’ week. When he did come I said, “This is my boy.” I wanted him to open the batting [at the time Markram was a middle-order batsman] and be my captain.
‘After we toured India, where he averaged below 20, if I’m not mistaken, the selectors were not happy with me when I said not only would Markram open for me, he’d be my captain.’
Asked why he had so much faith in Markram, Jennings said he was drawn to the player’s character and maturity.
‘As an U19 coach, I determine the player’s level of maturity instead of merely looking at the player’s age. Markram’s maturity level was that of a 21- or 22-year-old and he knew how to utilise his abilities and withstand pressure.’
The big clincher for the former Mean Machine wicketkeeper and Proteas coach was how Markam took to opening the batting, which he reckons is the toughest gig in cricket.
‘For a task like that you’ve got to have character and fighting spirit to do it. A lot of players try to avoid the responsibility of the new ball and hide at five or six on the batting order. The important part of opening is to be able to take the heat, and if you get runs you have a chance to move the game forward.
‘Not too many guys have that and Markram does. He has staying power and the ability to take the knocks that come with cricket, and come back harder.’
Jennings’ observation is backed by the fact Markram was largely ignored at first-class level after his SA UU19 heroics, only getting his chance with the Titans last season. But he capitalised by scoring 565 runs at 51.36 in the Sunfoil Series this year and scoring 161 off 123 balls in the Momentum One-Day Cup final.
Wiaan Mulder (19)
In addition to his age and having begun his first-class career as a schoolboy,what draws attention to Mulder is that his nickname is ‘Baby Kallis”, after Jacques Kallis, the man regarded to be the finest all-rounder of his generation. It’s a moniker his SA U19 coach Lawrence Mahatlane doesn’t like for the pressure it is likely to put on the sturdy former St Stithians College old boy.
But Geoffrey Toyana, his coach at the Highveld Lions, doesn’t mind it a bit: ‘We gave him that nickname at the Lions because he’s got the potential to achieve what someone like Jacques has in the long run.
‘Maybe it won’t be in terms of Jacques’ numbers, but it certainly is in terms of his ability to bowl first change and as a top-five batter. For now he’s concentrating on his bowling and we’ve started him slowly at No 8 as a batter, but he’s already taken a seven-fer and scored a century for us.
‘In 18 months Mulder will bat at No 5 for us – he’s got a good technique and his batting is pleasing to the eye – I believe he has the potential to be a batting all-rounder; we’ve got too many bowling all-rounders in SA at the moment.’
Toyana said he was most impressed by Mulder’s temperament: ‘We got him to come through in high school and he wasn’t overawed by it. He reminds me a little of [fellow St Stithians old boy] Kagiso Rabada in the questions he asks – they’re all relevant and he’s always talking cricket.
‘When he got his seven-fer against the Dolphins it was his second or third game for us and he took out their whole top order with magic deliveries. He bowls a heavy ball and has wicket-taking ability.’
Khaya Zondo (27)
The man who made his first-class debut at 17’s has always been a talented batsman, but like a lot of young batsmen, questions related to his consistency have been raised. However, it seems as if doubts have been diverted after his appointment Dolphins captain, and in turn, the SA A limited-overs captain.
In his first season as Dolphins captain, Zondo scored 740 runs at 67.27 in the Sunfoil Series, impressing all and sundry with his willingness to attack and improvise. One such moment that sticks out for Dolphins coach Grant Morgan is their two-wicket defeat to eventual Sunfoil winners, the Titans, in their penultimate game of the season.
‘We nearly defended 90 runs that day; and they ended up scoring 91-8. It was also a helluva effort by Khaya to get the guys believing they could do it – that’s leadership right there. He’s got all the characteristics to be a fine leader,’ says Morgan.
‘He’s an attacking captain who’s not afraid to take on a couple of calculated risks, and he’s not scared to challenge people and the coaches, which is a fine line because it can go either way, but it worked for him. At the end of the season he called all the guys together and urged them to be better at closing games out, so he’s got the ability to take things into his hands.’
Morgan says Zondo’s age was just right for him to be ‘the best Khaya Zondo he can be’ in terms of his leadership of the Dolphins and the runs he scores in the process. ‘He seems to be flourishing with the responsibility.’
Jason Smith (22)
Toyana’s Highveld Lions may have been on the winning side, but their coach hasn’t forgotten Jason Smith’s performance in their first Sunfoil Series game against the Cape Cobras last season. ‘He’s a serious cricketer; we played against him in all our games last season. He bats No 4 or 5 and he got a good 90 [95 and 4-24] at the Wanderers on a difficult pitch.
‘He’s a dangerous batter who can move the game quickly and he bowls at about 125-128km/h. He swings the ball both ways and he’s tall, so he gets bounce. He’s a clever bowler who also knows how to work around the crease. Between him and Mulder I’m really interested in who overtakes who for national team honours.’
Beuran Hendricks (27)
The 27-year-old left-arm seamer has been making a statement for the SA A side in both 50-over and four-day cricket. His good form has been crucial to SA A’s recent performances, which saw them crush Hampshire in a four-dayer, his 5-20 pivotal in knocking out the hosts for 119 in their second innings.
He continued his wicket-taking form on the England tour taking 2-75 and 2-61 against the England Lions and then continued where he left off back at home, taking 2-15 against India A in a one-dayer in South Africa.
He is currently involved in a two-match four-day series against India A in South Africa, where his 3-23 helped the hosts bundle a talented India A side for 120 in their first innings of the first Test.