JOHANNESBURG - Aiden Markram admits that talk about him slotting into the Proteas side is frightening.
“I struggled with it at the start,” Markram said at SuperSport Park on Wednesday after the Titans’ lengthy training session ahead of Friday's Momentum One-Day Cup final against the Warriors.
“You might have a couple of good games and your name gets mentioned (as a candidate to play for the Proteas) and you don’t know how to deal with it. It’s quite scary.”
As daunting as all the chatter is, Markram’s gradually growing accustomed to it all. It helps having the likes of Mark Boucher, the Titans coach, Albie Morkel and in recent weeks, AB de Villiers, around.
“If you play for the Proteas and you come back to franchise cricket, then there’s a level of expectation if you channel it properly it can motivate you to do well, because you want to maintain that benchmark, but if you take it the wrong way, put pressure on yourself... it can also lead to your downfall.
“I did that, I put too much pressure on myself when I first saw my name mentioned, but the senior players, they’ve said ‘See it from the perspective that you’ve set the benchmark for yourself and now try and improve it’,” said Markram.
There had been plenty of talk about Markram playing for the Proteas even before he led the SA Under-19s to the world title in 2014. The volume of that chatter has increased this season, the first the 22-year-old has had at senior professional level. With Stephen Cook not establishing himself at the top of the order in the Test team, the attention on Markram has grown. Many will tune in on Friday to watch De Villiers in the final, but there will be almost as many interested in how Markram plays.
“The Proteas is the end goal,” said Markram. “You never know how close you are, you could be thinking you’re miles off and two weeks later, you get a phone call, like what happened with Lungi (Ngidi) - he didn’t expect that phone call. In the same way you may think you’re very close and then there’s actually two guys better.”
If that phone call is to come from the national selectors, Markram would prefer if it arrives soon. “The earlier you get involved in that environment it can only make you better,” he said.
Markram admits that if the goal of becoming an international player is not realised within five years, there’s only one person who can be blamed. “It will have nothing to do with anyone else, it would be (disappointment) with myself.”
Markram’s had a solid season, scoring over 500 runs in the Sunfoil Series, while in the One-Day Cup he set a national record when he made 183 against the Lions. “I don’t set my goals by numbers, for me it’s been a mental thing,” Markram said.
“Because I’m still pretty young, I’m focused on learning. There’s so much knowledge in our change-room, you can almost fast-track your career if you rub shoulders with those guys. Next season might be different, I might be playing more of a role in the side, opening the batting. But this season has been a good one.”
Having access to Boucher, De Villiers and Morkel among others, has been beneficial. “It’s unbelievable, you try and ‘sponge’ off them as much as you can,” said Markram.
Besides the 183, one of the highlights of the season was sharing some time at the crease with De Villiers, when the Titans beat the Warriors in Benoni two weeks ago. “Every ball I was out there batting with him, I had goosebumps. There wasn’t a big crowd, but the welcome he got was loud. It was really cool,” Markram said.
“It’s been a long season, but the guys are up for this game, like no other,” Markram said. “The Warriors love to scrap, that victory over the Knights showed that and we are expecting that,” Markram said.