Markram or Bavuma: Who will be Proteas' next Test captain?
Cricket South Africa is weighing up options for who will captain the Proteas in the Test arena when cricket resumes. Today STUART HESS and ZAAHIER ADAMS assess two candidates and why they feel one of these players should be the next Test captain.
Stuart Hess picks Aiden Markram
Aiden Markram has either wasted his talent and is therefore not good enough to play international cricket or is the greatest gift to South African cricket since Jacques Kallis.
These are the extremes in which athletes around the world - not only South Africa - are viewed nowadays. You’re either the ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all time) or just a useless slab of cement. Markram is neither.
His biggest problem is that he achieved success so early. A World Cup win - albeit at junior level - a 97 on his Test debut, followed by a maiden Test century in just his second Test followed by another in his third. Those first three Tests were ideally ‘soft’ introductions to the international game against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
They helped Markram get reasonably comfortable at the start of his career and to his credit he built on that start with some very good innings in the subsequent pair of intense series’ the Proteas played against India and Australia. A 94 in the first Test against India, grabbed Virat Kohli’s attention and for a while the sport’s biggest star was also Markram’s biggest fan.
Hundreds against Australia showed toughness and terrific skill. He was ideally set to fulfill the role of national captain once Faf du Plessis retired - or so it seemed. In fact Linda Zondi, then in the role of chairman of selectors, made Markram captain for the One-Day series against India that followed the Tests, but it was an ill-advised move.
Struggles with the bat in 2019 - an arena in which he wasn’t alone - seemingly pushed back his captaincy prospects. But Graeme Smith’s remarks last week that " maybe (CSA) take a risk on someone potentially and back them," has opened the door to Markram being reconsidered as captain.
The 25-year-old has done some deep introspection. It’s not new for Markram but what stands him apart from many others his age, is the remarkable critical self-analysis he does and his willingness to highlight his shortcomings. “I was a little spoiled, maybe even a bit of brat in the initial stages of my career, and I thought everything would be fine,” he said earlier this year after making a comeback from injury. “I needed this kick up the arse and now it’s about putting the head down and working hard.”
That kind of forthright honesty is just what you would want from a captain.
He won’t be the first cricketer to have needed a ‘kick up the arse’ to get him moving in the right direction. It shows Markram has a strong personality - despite being somewhat quietly spoken - and given time he’ll imprint that personality on the team.
Like when Smith first started as captain, much learning will take place, but given the expertise surrounding him and the fact that he and Mark Boucher have worked together closely in the last two years, that already well established relationship will be vital in forging a new path for a young and inexperienced Proteas team.
Zaahier Adams picks Temba Bavuma
Temba Bavuma knows all about pressure. He might be slightly built and diminutive in stature, but those shoulders carry the weight of an expectant nation every time he walks to the crease.
It is not something he desires. But being the premier Black African batsman in a country that is obsessed with race offers up a unique set of challenges, which reared its ugly head again last summer when Bavuma was dropped for the first two matches of the England Test series.
"It has been hard. It's not so much the dropping part; all players get dropped, everyone goes through slumps of not scoring well," he said.
"The awkwardness and discomfort from my side is when you are thrown into talks of transformation. Yes, I am black, that's my skin. But I play cricket because I love it.
"I'd like to think the reason I am in the team is because of performances I have put forward in my franchise side, and also for the national team, whenever I have been able to."
If the talks are to be believed that the 29-year-old could potentially be the next Proteas Test captain, then I have no doubt he would want to be appointed on the same basis.
And that’s just it. Bavuma is currently the best candidate to lead the Proteas Test side.
I am by no means naïve not to appreciate the inspirational value and impact Bavuma could potentially have on South Africa as a nation should he lead the Proteas Test side. We just need to look as far as the Springboks' trailblazing skipper Siya Kolisi.
In fact, the similarities are undeniable. Kolisi may not always have been an automatic first-choice in his position, but his coach Rassie Erasmus identified him as a leader of men. Erasmus had seen the respect Kolisi commanded in the Newlands dressing room when he led the Stormers and believed his elevation to the Bok leadership would prompt Kolisi to raise his own game – and in turn he would lift those around him.
Bavuma is cut from the same cloth. He is a hardened franchise captain at the Highveld Lions. He’s been instrumental in leading the Lions to domestic silverware, most notably a couple of 4-Day Domestic trophies now and also the CSA T20 Challenge title.
Bavuma’s performance in the T20 Challenge final at the Wanderers 12 months ago was particularly special as his century showed the ability to lead from the front through action. Equally, the career-best 180 he struck after being dropped spoke volumes about his character.
Bavuma knows his Test average of 30.75 is not good enough. But he is a fighter. And the Proteas need one of those right now to lead them into battle.