JOHANNESBURG – Aiden Markram’s fourth Test century gradually pulled attention away from the controversy that has clouded the build up to the fourth and final Test between South Africa and Australia on Friday.
It was an innings laced with gorgeous strokeplay, particularly through the cover region, and served to further underline the important role he will play for the national team in the future.
As Markram leapt and punched the air, the applause from an excellent first-day crowd indicated that they had started to move on from concerning themselves with the drama on the last few days, and could settle into watch one of the sport’s bright young stars begin to show why so many predict greatness in his future.
The morning’s play took place in a surreal atmosphere, with Australia’s players clearly suffering a hangover from the emotional toll events in the last few days have had.
It was as if the Wanderers crowd, not known for being sheepish, didn’t know whether to get stuck into the tourists or to show them pity.
That started to change as Markram’s innings built, which made it easier for them to get behind one of their own.
The 23-year-old, playing just his 10th Test, barely erred on a pitch where there seems to be little lateral movement and the pace is easy.
He drove with style and grace, whether straight or through the cover region, pulled powerfully on one occasion against Pat Cummins, and on another produced one of the shots of the day, when he took a couple of steps down the track and lifted Nathan Lyon high over long on for six.
Missing on Friday as he approached the landmark was any freneticism as he casually knocked the ball into gaps and brought up his hundredth run with a nudge into the midwicket region
It was his second hundred of the series, but his celebration indicated that he felt this one was more meaningful than the one in Durban, where he was fighting a rearguard effort trying to save the match.
This innings could well be the foundation from which the Proteas march to victory in this series, which would be a notable landmark in the post-isolation era.
Australia again, noticeably quieter today than in the previous three matches in the series, managed to claim just one wicket in the session, when Hashim Amla’s thick outside edge was well taken by a diving Peter Handscomb at second slip.
It was another irritating conclusion for Amla, who’s made just one half-century in the series, and was dismissed for 27 on Friday.
At tea, South Africa were 177/2, with Markram on 111 not out, and AB de Villiers alongside him on 8.