JOHANNESBURG - Their paths to leadership positions have been different, but for Khaya Zondo and Aiden Markram the weight of the responsibilities they will bear in England over the next few weeks is something they’re both comfortable carrying.
Zondo will captain the SA A side in five one-day matches in England including three against the England A side, while Markram will lead the SA A four-day side in two matches against county opponents and one against the England A team.
It was a major statement of intent from the national selectors to show faith in two young players, who have taken different routes in recent seasons to get to this point. Markram has always had the look of a captain, after leading the SA Under-19 team to the world title in 2014. Zondo, although he says he feels comfortable as skipper, had it thrust upon him at the Dolphins last season, and carried it as part of a larger journey of spiritual enlightenment that has aided his play.
Zondo was dealt a crushing blow when he was overlooked for the starting team in the deciding ODI against India in Mumbai in October 2015.
It was a difficult period for the 27-year-old and his game suffered but before the start of last season, he rediscovered his motivation with a mentor, who he prefers remains “confidential.”
“I was told by one of my mentors, that the world ‘owes you nothing’... whether something is right or wrong. Then I realised, what’s happened has happened, it can’t be changed, and the only thing I can do is grow as a cricketer,” he said.
Clarity off the field, led to clarity on it and with it some excellent form, that saw Zondo finish the Sunfoil Series as one of just five batsmen to score over 700 runs in the competition last season. Then came the Dolphins captaincy, which didn’t affect how he played other than to make him even more responsible. “Captaincy helped my batting, I know now, I’m not going to go out and hack,” Zondo quipped.
“Whether I’m in the nets, getting throwdowns or playing a game I want to leave training or the match slightly better than what I was, whether that’s by 0.1 percent, 1 percent or 10 percent. I can’t go backwards.”
Markram admits that the opportunity to captain the SA A side is exciting even if, as one of the younger members of the squad, it might be daunting barking orders at older players who have Test experience.
“Being one of the younger guys in the squad it’s something to treasure,” said the 22-year-old. “You can find yourself very starstruck at times, it’s something I can learn a lot from. It can be (intimidating) but the guys in this squad are really nice people, that makes it easy to take control.”
Markram admits he’ll lean on advice from senior pros like his Titans teammate Heino Kuhn and Knights skipper Theunis de Bruyn.
“(Theunis) is only a couple of years older than me, he’s very mature. He gets on well with senior players, coaching staff... he’s a guy I will definitely consult with on the tour. I will keep him close to me, I think we can form a very good partnership that can be beneficial to the team,” Markram said.
The prospect of a Test call-up should things go well for him, is something Markram doesn’t want to think about at this point. “Being the person I am that will only add pressure. I don’t want to put that on my shoulders just yet. Obviously it’s a nice thing to have in the back of your mind if you can channel it into a positive,” Markram explained.