DURBAN – Aiden Markram was freshening up when there was a shower of South African wickets late on day four.
He didn’t see the clouds suddenly roll in or hear the Mitchell Starc thunder because he was still bathing in the realisation that he fully belongs at the highest table of world cricket.
He would have known, too, that he belonged when the Aussies were in his ear, trying to break his resolute march by any means.
“Obviously it is natural when you play Australia that there is a lot of chat on the field. It is something that I really don’t mind. It keeps me in the game, keeps me really motivated.
“I think it is something that is part of the game, and makes a success more rewarding,” he said of the obligatory Aussie sledging.
Markram and Theunis de Bruyn took the verbal volley and owned it like a badge of honour, because that is precisely what it was.
They had pushed a hitherto dominant Australia to a point where they felt they had to use more than just cricketing skill, and then absorbed that, too.
Markram’s marvellous 143, off 218 balls, was a statement, a coming of age for a player who has long been earmarked as the future of South African cricket.
The future, it seems, is in a hurry, because Markram and a couple of so-called laaities breathed considerable life into what many feared was a corpse of a match on Sunday.
The 23-year-old opener batted for 20 minutes shy of six hours, and had to absorb the loss of Dean Elgar, then Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and De Bruyn before he had his fill at the crease.
None of that deterred him from his task, because his failure to launch in the second innings was still a burning source of irritation.
“I felt quite a bit of pressure building because I hadn’t been performing like I wanted to be. To get a start in the first dig and then not go on bothered me quite a bit.
“Today fortunately was a day where I had a bit of luck on my side, and I ran with it,” he smiled.
Tellingly, Markram was fulsome in his praise for those who went with him. Indeed, it comes easier than talking about his own successes, because there isn’t a shred of ego or arrogance about him.
STUMPS, DAY 4: AUS need just 1 more wicket to win this match. SA 293/9, Starc 4/74, De Kock 81*, Morkel 0*, Markram 143. What a day of cricket! We're back at Kingsmead at 10am sharp. #SAvAUS #ProteaFire #SunfoilTest pic.twitter.com/yabrc8bH1r
“A guy like Theunis de Bruyn took it to a guy like Mitchell Starc, which was probably unexpected by most out there, and a guy like Quinny, who they say is all talent, but today he showed a lot of character,” Markram praised.
In that moment he sounded like a captain, speaking up for his young players – though they are older than him, mind – who were under their own pressures.
Markram absorbed everything that Australia chucked at him, and came out on the other side.
He was gutted that a moment of ‘ill-discipline’ saw him fall before the close, and that is a measure of the standards he sets for himself.
Someone tell the naysayers that the future is in capable hands.