Proteas’ next big hope: Aiden Markram

South African opener Aiden Markram hopes to conquer the Indian spinners in the forthcoming Test series. AP-PTi

AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, chalk and cheese in their styles, undoubtedly deserve a place in the list of South Africa’s greatest match winners ever, across all formats. During its prime, the duo inspired Proteas to great heights. As expected, the retirement of De Villiers and Amla has left a huge void in South African cricket.  

Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock are the two pillars of the current South African batting, that’s undergoing a rebuilding phase. To get back to being a dominant force, South Africa need more young blood to rise to the occasion. Aiden Markram could be one of them.  

For a country that’s starved of success at global events, South Africa first won a World Cup under Markram’s captaincy, albeit at the U-19 level in 2014. The triumph was Markram’s breakthrough moment, following which he has been tipped as South Africa’s future.  

When in flow, Markram is a delight to watch, but the right-handed opener isn’t all style and no substance. The 24-year-old is solid against the pacers and doesn’t hesitate to attack. At a reasonably good average of 43.80, Markram has scored 1358 runs in 17 Tests. Perhaps the biggest challenge in the youngster’s career awaits next month, when South Africa play three Tests against hosts India, who boast of world class bowlers. In a free-wheeling chat with DH, Markram talks about his journey, playing spin, his coaches and more. Excerpts:    

Even the greats of the game have struggled on turning tracks in India. How prepared are you for the challenge?

A lot of things come down to belief and confidence in yourself. The wickets we get back home are very different from what we see in India. That’s something that we have to make peace with. You need to give yourself the best chance by preparing really well, physically in the nets and mentally. It was nice for me to spend time out in the middle in the practice games.

What are the expectations from you back home?

We have lost a couple of quality players in the last year or so. And I think it allows the younger guys like me to step up and take more responsibility. I could learn a lot from the legends and it also helped me ease into my career. But times have changed now. It’s time for me to take pressure off some of the senior players. We younger guys need to start winning games for South Africa and not just play like the fearless and expressive way we did before. It’s something that’s exciting and it should bring the best out of us.

Was the U-19 WC win your career’s turning point?

I would say so. The WC triumph was a big stepping stone, it kind of provided a bit of a spring board, not just for me but also for quite a few other players, like KG (Kagiso Rabada), who also came to the limelight. It was nice to get recognised.

You have had an impressive Test career so far. How did you ace the test of red-ball cricket?

After we won the U-19 World Cup, it took me a year to get into a domestic side. Initially, I was upset because when you are young, you expect things to happen a lot quicker. But I realised when you move to a bigger stage from age-group cricket, the pool is bigger. There are so many people competing. So in that one year, I learnt a lot and played for the B side, which is fine. Because only when you play at all levels do you learn along the way. I am glad I didn’t miss any step. During that period, I learnt a lot about red-ball cricket. It allowed me to develop my plans for the format. It was a bit of a blessing in disguise. For me, the real way to play is to earn your cap at each level.

From winning the U-19 World Cup to receiving a chance to lead the South Africa senior side, it’s been an eventful journey for you…

It’s a dream to represent my country, never mind the captaincy. And the ODI captaincy responsibility did take me by surprise. Like I mentioned, it’s a massive privilege, I never thought my career would shape like this. It’s been quite a few lows and quite a few highs in this short career of mine. I am forever grateful for how it’s turned out. You learn from your failures and you learn from your tough times. When you eventually succeed, it makes it a lot sweeter.  

Who has had an influence on your batting?

It’s a tough one to say. There were so many legends in the South African side and naturally you feed off them. You tap into their brain, about their knowledge of the game. But yet there are two guys who come to my mind to whom I am very grateful to. They are Pierre de Bruyn, who is coaching me at the moment, and Mark Boucher, who is my domestic coach back home. Two of them really helped me understand my game better and quicker. I have learnt a lot under them. And hopefully the relationships with the two of them can keep going throughout my career. 

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