India vs South Africa: Making Aiden Markram captain before he established himself as a regular may not be a smart move by Proteas

The responsibilities that South Africa have dumped on Aiden Markram at such an early stage in his career could be detrimental to his growth as a player.

Rohit Sankar, February 04, 2018

Saturday began with headlines of Aiden Markram, all of two ODIs old, being named South Africa's stand-in captain for the remaining ODIs and T20Is against India.

It was such an un-South African move. They are not the kind of people who throw caution to the wind, go against the conventional or break pecking orders. They love being orderly and getting things perfect to the very last detail. It is perhaps this trait of theirs that led to nine years of dominance as a Test nation away from home, a record which has little comparisons in modern cricket.

But it is also the trait that have seen them being dumped out of World Cups rather unceremoniously. The last time they pulled a rabbit out of the hat, Graeme Smith, arguably their greatest ever skipper and certainly their most successful one, emerged.

File image of Aiden Markram. Image credit: Twitter/@OfficialCSA

File image of Aiden Markram. Image credit: Twitter/@OfficialCSA

There is little doubt that Linda Zondi and the panel have managed to make the whole of Rainbow Nation very pleased with the appointment of Markram as stand-in skipper. Of course, he is the future leader. In most ways he is the perfect choice.

He is the only South African skipper to bring home a World Cup (Under-19 World Cup 2014). He is young, ambitious, has led the Titans and the South African 'A' side and is importantly only 22, which means he has a whole career in front of him.

It is very similar to 2003 when the Proteas named a young 22-year-old Smith as captain. That was the beginning of a rather rosy period for South African cricket as Smith nosed his way to become a powerful leader.

Smith, though, unlike Markram, had been in the South African side for a year when he was conferred with the captaincy. He had played 22 ODIs and scored 864 runs at an average of 41.14. In Tests, he had a hundred and a double hundred and had shown a penchant to grind it out, a character he carried right through his career.

There is no doubting that South Africa are hoping that Markram will blend into the setup, get used to captaincy and then later take on the mantle full-fledged. A major conundrum South Africa faced was when they had no succession plan for Smith after the tall left-hander suddenly hung up his boots.

The captaincy switched between Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers but neither seemed right for the job. In fact, there was no clear successor and this led to a lot of confusion with De Villiers hoping to be captain only to lose out to Amla and then later gain it.

The dust settled down when Faf du Plessis came forward and took on the reins with aplomb. Now this happened last year on a permanent basis but du Plessis is already 32 and identifying a successor to him is the right ploy.

“Part of our plan is to make sure we look at our Vision 2019 and also making sure that part of our plan is to develop young leaders in view of the post-2019 plans," Linda Zondi, the selection convenor said.

South Africa have identified their ‘Vision 2019’ which is a plan to get the best players for the showpiece event in England and prepare themselves in the best way they can. So Markram is undoubtedly a beneficiary of this vision.

Where does this plan go awry?

From every angle that you look at it, Zondi and the selection panel have made the perfect choice. You have a good back-up skipper who is capable of stepping up and taking over the side later on. You have a talented batsman who holds the highest List 'A' score in franchise cricket in South Africa at the age of 22.

But isn't the plan being executed a tad too early? Like they do for World Cups, aren't South Africa trying to be over prepared?

Now let us take a look at this objectively. In the first ODI of the Indian series, if De Villiers was fit enough, would Markram have played? Unlikely. In fact, Khaya Zondo was the first choice to replace De Villiers according to many before Markram swooped in.

The tall Titans skipper is just 22 and is among the most inexperienced in the South African squad having played just two ODIs to date. In Tests, he had a mesmerising start to his career, but the bulk of the runs came against lowly Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The few matches against India since then haven't reaped as many runs.

This brings us to the fundamental question. If and when both De Villiers and Du Plessis return, where does Markram fit in? Do South Africa see themselves dropping the experienced JP Duminy before the World Cup? If they do, keeping him in the squad now makes little sense.

The fact that Markram hasn't really nailed down his spot in the side effectively means he is playing to impress as a batsman and as a skipper against the No 2 side in the world. That is too much responsibility on his young shoulders.

Of course he has led South Africa 'A' side and the Titans but captaining a national team comes with so many other responsibilities. That he isn't an established member in the playing XI, and may not even be in the XI when the experienced duo return, makes this decision a not so smart one.

"We are aware that Markram is new to our set-up," Zondi said. "Part of our plan is to also build that pool of leaders within the set-up. I think Markram has always been in our plans since he was U-19 captain, leading up to SA 'A', and now joining the Proteas. Yes, there will be pressure in terms of him maybe understanding his role and also being able to perform as a player. For us, we want to see if he can handle pressure, because part of leadership is to be able to adjust and perform under pressure. We think he has the right skill and the right capability to do so."

The excess pressure on Markram also stems from the fact that he is being asked to bat in an unfamiliar role in ODIs. He is a natural opener but with South Africa having the stable pair of Quinton de Kock and Amla at the top, they want to see how Markram goes in the middle-order.

Once again, the case has been of the Proteas getting too excited by the sheer talent young Markram possesses. He is made to open in Tests, then pushed to the middle-order in ODIs and has been given the captaincy of the side. In short, they are searching for another Superman.

The load they have dumped on Markram at such an early stage in his career could be intimidating and detrimental to his growth as a player. We wouldn't want to see him on the bench when the Proteas play Australia (where he could be vice-captain according to the selectors) after this series, wondering what took him down.

There is no doubt that Markram is their future leader. Giving him a taste of captaincy is totally fine but shouldn't he at least be assured of a place in the final XI even when De Villiers and Du Plessis return?

Their 'Vision 2019’ can only go completely awry if they haven't thought this through. Are they ready to fit Markram into the playing XI come what may? Are they prepared to replace Duminy with Markram when the injured players return? If he doesn't go well in the middle-order, are they prepared to push Amla down to No 3 and give Markram a go at the top with De Kock?

If they haven't thought of these questions before announcing Markram as a stand-in skipper and a possible vice-captain for the Australian series, they have barely thought about Markram the player and the immense promise he holds as a future superstar.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2018


Pos. Team P W L D Pts.
14 9 5 0 18
14 9 5 0 18
14 8 6 0 16
14 7 7 0 14
14 6 8 0 12
14 6 8 0 12
14 6 8 0 12
14 5 9 0 10

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3499 125
2 South Africa 3589 112
3 Australia 3499 106
4 New Zealand 2354 102
5 England 3511 98
6 Sri Lanka 2914 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 5257 125
2 India 5492 122
3 South Africa 3842 113
4 New Zealand 4602 112
5 Australia 3327 104
6 Pakistan 3279 102
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 2990 130
2 Australia 1894 126
3 India 3932 123
4 New Zealand 2542 116
5 England 1951 115
6 South Africa 2058 114