DURBAN - Aiden Markram is going through a patch. An ugly, barren patch, but still nothing but a patch. Others have gone through the same before him, and others will still visit the same cul-de-sac of batting form in the future.
His struggles have been emphasised by the fact that slow bowling is the poison that has given him the troubles, as opposed to the brisk stuff. He was raised on quick bowling, on hard surfaces, so 2018 was always going to be a tough winter for him. Markram tried to broaden his horizons by going to the north-east of the UK, and having a stint at Durham. Even in the midst of one of the steamiest summers in recent British times, Durham is still not the quickest track on earth.
The plan was for Markram to get into some good habits, curb some of his natural enthusiasm to press towards the bowling; to let the ball come to him, soften his hands, and prepare for a thorough examination of his technique in Sri Lanka. When he landed in Colombo, he spoke of his keenness to prove himself as a player for all surfaces, and welcomed the considerable challenge that the likes of Rangana Herath would present him.
More than anything, he was desperate to avoid second-season syndrome. He immediately struggled in the only warm-up game, and then the barren scores continued in the Test series, as the slow poison constricted him. He is not the first, brilliantly fluent stroke-player whose abilities have been numbed by decent spin. His first-baller during Sunday's first ODI was as unsurprising as it was familiar in recent times.
Out of form batsmen tend to start feeling for the ball, clutching for the feel of bat and ball. Markram, usually classy and secure in his footwork, has started feeling for the ball, trying to create new angles. That approach has played right into the hands of Sri Lanka’s assortment of slow men. They all bowl pretty straight, and thus bring leg-before into play.
Markram’s crisis in confidence will come to an end at some point, but it has arrived at a time when South Africa needed some top-order stability. It is new territory for him - though he did have a brief case of spin trauma against India - and how he emerges from this will say much about his mental strength. There are still four ODI matches to navigate through in Sri Lanka, and spin will still feature heavily on the buffet. Dropping him would not help anyone in the circumstances, and it is not actually the South African way.
The selectors will hope that, like Quinton de Kock, their young star will eventually turn a corner, and figure it all out. They will hope he finds a way to keep this difficulty to just a patch, rather than a full-blown crisis. He is not the first to endure a bout of second-season syndrome, and he will not be the last.