Aiden Markram’s place is not very far from the SuperSport Park. He was born and brought up here, went to the Pretoria Boys High School, grew up watching cricket from the grass banks of Centurion, played as well as captained the local domestic side Titans and seemed inevitable to score a Test hundred in his first international fixture at the home turf in front of his entire family, that too against the No 1 ranked Test team in the world.
The script couldn’t have been more perfect for the 23-year old.
But, there was a twist in the tail.
Six runs before of what would have been his third Test ton in seven innings, Markram edged a Ravichandran Ashwin delivery to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel while trying to play a late cut. He reviewed it, but with no luck. As he was coming out of the ground, the camera panned towards his parents then to his girlfriend, they all looked shell-shocked.
Fairytales do not happen to everyone — Markram has certainly learnt that now.
Nevertheless, irrespective of those six runs, the career of this youngster has undoubtedly peaked following this innings. He may have had a remarkable start to Test cricket, scoring two hundreds besides a 97-run knock in his first six innings, but those scores were made against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. He himself recently mentioned that playing against India is a ‘massive step up’.
In Cape Town, after being worked out (LBW) by Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first innings, he did come back strongly in the next innings with a 43-ball 34. On a wicket where the entire South African team was bowled out for 130, the right-hander looked quite solid during his stay at the crease. Unfortunately, that time he could not make use of that platform.
On Saturday, in front of a sellout crowd at Centurion, Markram was not in the mood to miss out again. For any youngster playing in front of a home crowd for the first time is a challenging task. At times nerves can overwhelm your skills. And yes, by his own admission, Markram too was nervous. But he didn’t let the occasion get to him — that shows his maturity.
The youngster is one of those typical all-format modern-day batsmen, who likes to maintain a high strike-rate while being at the crease. And during this innings, he backed his strengths and went after the Indian bowlers.
Markram not only punished the loose balls (there were plenty in the first session), he also found a way to score off the good balls, which was probably the most annoying factor for Virat Kohli and his boys. The Indian skipper found it quite hard to set a field against him. Each time the fielding side tried something, Markram always seemed to have the antidote.
Even when Hardik Pandya tried to annoy him by bowling short-pitched stuff from around the wicket, the Protea opener did not hesitate a bit to play those cross-bat shots. Yes, there was some luck, a top-edge went over the wicketkeeper, but that had no effect on his composure.
However, this innings was not only about flamboyance. Throughout his 150-ball innings, Markram showed a lot of steadiness. Time and again the Indian seamers targeted his pads by bowling full and straight. But a calm Markram did not fall into the trap like he did in the first innings at Newlands. Instead of trying to play those deliveries through the onside, here he presented a straight bat, which is an indication of him being a quick learner.
He looked equally good on both the front and the back foot even as he showed a clear liking towards the offside. Most importantly, Markram seems like an organised batsman when it comes to playing against spin. Being there at the venue and having followed his innings from the close quarters, I can safely say, this youngster’s maturity as a cricketer is beyond his age.
South Africa should thank Ray Jennings, the coach of their under-19 team, which won the 2014 World Cup (Markram led the side) and Titans’ head-coach Mark Boucher for nurturing this talent through the age-group and domestic level. It is their trust which shaped Markram’s career and most importantly kept him in the country, as till a few years back, he had offers from overseas to play and settle there.