JOHANNESBURG - Aiden Markram is learning very quickly that ending this three Test series with a hefty batting average is something that may not happen, given the nature of the surfaces South Africa want prepared.
South Africa’s batsmen have to set aside egos and thoughts on improving their averages as the team seeks to take advantage of utilising its major strengths - quick bowling - to isolate the opposition side’s main weakness - facing the steep bouncing ball.
“Sacrifice is the right word. For the team you will do almost anything and this is the thing you have to battle through,” Markram said Thursday, ahead of his first Test at his home ground here in Centurion.
It’s not an easy change of mindset, and especially so for a young batsman like Markram who is still learning and trying to make his mark at international level. In the first Test at Newlands, he was undone by some clever thinking and execution from Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first innings and then by his own misjudgement in the second.
“To be exposed to challenges like this, as a young player, is great. You learn your best lessons at this level. It was certainly valuable. Going into this game, I’ll be more aware,” said Markram.
Proteas captain Faf du Plessis adopted the policy of making life as uncomfortable as possible for teams from the sub-continent last summer when Sri Lanka were white-washed in three Tests on quick, even green surfaces.Because India have a more skilful seam bowling line-up than their Asian neighbours, South Africa are hoping groundsmen avoid providing too much grass, which aids seam movement, and just create surfaces that are hard, to aid bounce and pace.
Newlands last week, said Markram probably “did too much,” but he is happy to change his mindset and approach if it ensures he’s in the winning team.
“By no means are we just going to accept the fact that batters can’t score runs here. I still believe the batters can get stuck in and score. It won’t be easy, it’s really challenging. But if you apply yourself, and play for long periods within your own game plan there are runs up for grabs.”
In part to help his batsmen’s mentality, the Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has said he wants them playing positively.
“The message that I’ve been giving to the guys out in the middle is to try as best they can to get runs before that ball gets you,” Gibson said after the Newlands Test.
Markram and the rest of the batting unit have discussed how to adapt that approach to what they’re facing at the crease.
“I didn’t want to lose the intensity at which I bat. There are game plans, which are utilised according to the kinds of wickets you’re playing on," Markram added.
“It’s important your partners understand ... know when you’re getting a bit loose or when you need to raise your intensity, there’s no fixed blueprint, it’s different for each player, but we keep the positive affirmation happening.”
South Africa’s training session on Thursday afternoon was typically intense. AB de Villiers, still nursing the forefinger damaged while catching Hardik Pandya on Monday, forwent a stint in the slips.
There was also a bruising session with the ball for Chris Morris and Lungi Ngidi.
As was the case in Cape Town, it will come down to a case of one or the other, or playing just three seamers and the extra batsman in Temba Bavuma, or playing Bavuma, four seamers and axing spinner Keshav Maharaj.
Both Morris and Ngidi looked in excellent shape during their stints, and Gibson and Du Plessis, who watched intently as the pair bowled, will have another very difficult decision to make as they finalise the starting XI.