Last week, Virat Kohli posted a tweet as the young South African opener Aiden Markram thwarted the fast bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood armed with a plausibly worked upon red cherry at Newlands.
Aiden Markram is a delight to watch!
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) March 24, 2018
Nothing seemed to deter young Markram. He had established his own way of getting into a zone and batting with authority. From the moment he donned the whites for the first time to Friday, when he cleared the tense air at Wanderers with a punchy hundred — his fourth in Test cricket — Markram has been composed and down to earth.
To eke out praise from Kohli as an opposition player is close to impossible. When you do that, you know you are special.
“His [Kohli] competitiveness is something to admire and his motivation to keep scoring runs is something I've tried to take on board,” Markram said after his fabulous ton at Wanderers gushing with pride.
Things have happened in fast forward mode for the under-19 World Cup-winning skipper. It is still just over six months ago that he walked out with the stoic Dean Elgar and brushed aside a hapless Bangladesh unit on debut.
In this short time frame, Markram has opened the batting in Tests, batted at No 4 in the ODI line-up, skippered the limited-overs team in a tough series against India and weathered an intimidating Aussie attack, slamming four well-compiled hundreds in the process.
Take a look back at the whole controversy-marred series and you see the turning point happened way back in the first Test at Durban which Australia eventually won. Then, in the second innings, Markram engineered South Africa's hopeless fight, stringing together partnerships with the lower middle-order and buying himself a hundred (143) high in class and low in flair.
Not only was it the third highest score in the fourth innings of a Test match by a South African but it was also very much along the lines of what Graeme Smith did admirably well for South Africa in his time as the opener.
South Africa lost at Durban but they had shown through Markram that this series wasn't done. From a team that lost their final 5 wickets for 12 runs in the first innings, South Africa had found their fight.
"A South African cricketing star has been born. The two best batting techniques in South African cricket that I have seen came from Barry Richards and Jacques Kallis. Aiden's batting technique is as good as theirs. His hundred today is one of the best I have seen from a South African batsman. It was scored under extreme pressure and against an Australian bowling attack which is one of the best I have seen in world cricket for many years. His temperament under constant Aussie pressure was excellent,” Ali Bacher, who last led South Africa to a home series win against Australia, said after Markram's spectacular hundred then.
If a “star” was born at Durban as Bacher claimed, it has risen over the course of the series as evidenced by another masterclass at the Wanderers on day 1 of the final Test. With the Australians hitting headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past one week, somebody had to bring focus back to cricket. Markram did it in the most conventional of fashions.
“His technique is outstanding. He gets his head over the ball and plays straight," Bacher said. "When they bowl short, he gets up high on his toes and he doesn't square cut, he drives the ball off the back foot through the covers. He is the complete batsman."
What stands out in Markram's gameplay is his subtle yet evident confidence. There are no unnecessary shenanigans to his batting. He keeps it simple, watches the ball keenly and puts his best foot forward.
If there really are times when batting looks easy on the eye, it is when batsmen like Markram roll in full swing. On Friday, the opener had notably gotten off to a quicker than usual start. The Aussie bowlers were full and Markram drove them through the line with little fuss.
36% of the runs he made came straight down the ground while a further 32% came through mid-wicket and cover according to CricViz data.
He was very subdued against Jasprit Bumrah and co. with his sole 50+ score coming at Centurion on a belter. Here, against Australia, though, the Titans opener has ironed out the evident flaws and is already posing as a completely different batsman.
The technique is immaculate, the front foot stride and forward defence, text-book. In the two series' - against India and Australia - Markram's false shot percentage of 10.90 is lower than that of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Steven Smith.
Being an opener, that is a remarkable number. He has taken over from AB de Villiers as the leading run scorer in the series. Importantly, though, in an enterprising 105 run stand with de Villiers, Markram overshadowed the Superman. To do that, you either have to be so bloody good or catch de Villiers in one of his off seasons (definitely not now!).
To state that he has been a revelation would be an understatement. The stand-in captaincy might have come too early for the young man, but as a player he is making rapid positive strides. To stand out in a debut series as opener against a team like the Kangaroos requires some mental strengthening. So far, Markram has done it quite effortlessly.
Even with AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla on their final laps, South Africa seem to have no shortage of once-in-a-lifetime players. There is Kagiso Rabada, the ravishing pace bowler with a dream-like action and boyish Quinton de Kock, a silent assassin. With 7 scores of 80+ in 10 Tests, Markram -under-19 World Cup glory aside - is quickly catapulting himself into the elite category. The ton at Johannesburg further underlines the emboldened fact.