Johannesburg - The chorus is getting louder by the week, and every crack from the willow of Aiden Markram is doing very little to quieten down the hype.

His latest, and final contribution of the season saw the Titans to a domestic double on Friday night, and Markram to yet another score well beyond the three-figure barrier. Happily, he seems to have a healthy appetite for big runs - on even bigger occasions.

The 22 year-old has been earmarked by the selection panel that is social media, one that is adamant that the right-hander must be the name that comes after Dean Elgar, come the opening Test against England at Lord’s, in July.

It is a massive decision that sits in front of the national selectors, and convenor Linda Zondi had pride of place at Centurion.

He sat alone for much of Markram’s knock; alone with his thoughts that must have crossed to the precocious talent before his eyes.

Markram’s rise has already reminded some of the sharp ascent of another 22 year-old that startled South African - and then world - cricket. And, just like that predecessor of over a decade ago, there are still some who are unsure of Markram being chucked in at the deep end. Too much, too soon, they insist.

When Graeme Smith burst into the helm as national skipper, starting in England, there were similar noises about him being rushed into a high pressure role.

On top of being national captain, after a World Cup debacle, he was also expected to open the bowling. We all know how that ended up.

Though he has leadership credentials of his own, Markram’s current ambitions are not as complex as the portfolio that was on the desk of Mr Smith. All he will have to do is open the batting, against a rabid English attack, armed with a swinging Duke ball, and ravenous to get at a middle-order that they have scouted as vulnerable.

So, come July, Markram may just have the same jangling of nerves going through his belly as he strides through the Members, resplendent in their bacon-and-egg ties, and then emerge onto the most hallowed piece of cricket real estate.

A summer ago, with Stephen Cook still in possession of the number two slot, such thoughts would have been considered premature, and brazen even. But a season in international cricket is a long time, and longer still when the runs dry up.

Cook has struggled to the point that to look into his eyes in New Zealand was to see a man in need of a break from the game at the top ier. It’s no walk in the park, and Markram’s mass of runs must be doused with that splash of perspective.

Cook also dominated the franchise game, and did so for a lot longer than one term. What is in Markram’s favour, though, is that he plays with an infinitely straighter blade, and he is also looking to score, not merely survive.

Cook, for reasons only openers can fully comprehend, looked like a man trudging treacle in Australia and New Zealand, and swing merchants prey on that indecision.

The trick with openers, it seems, is to back them young, and back them long. The pressure on anyone that comes into the opening slot right now is exacerbated by what comes below him. Hashim Amla is in the midst of an uncharacteristic patch, and JP Duminy has not kicked on from the promise of a second coming that he suggested in Australia

It is a lot for a young man coming in to take in, but Markram wears the look of a man mature beyond his years. Winning helps, and it is a habit that is becoming matter of course at the Titans.

He has also shown a relish for exploiting any second chance he gets. When the Warriors dropped him, he didn’t dwell on his false stroke. Instead, he gathered himself and then tucked into the fare on offer at Centurion, going on to a merciless 161.

It is wholly premature to bestow labels of greatness - as some quarters have already - on one so young, but Markram suggests he has all the tools to get to the top, and stay there.

What is more, he is also a very capable leader, one that was earmarked or the senior job even when he was still in age-group cricket.

Aiden Markram has enjoyed the summer of his life - so far. But,tantalisingly, winter may yet bring even greater rewards.

Sunday Independent