JOHANNESBURG – AB de Villiers was far from his illuminating best during a nearly two-hour innings on the opening day of the final Test against Australia on Friday.
And when he relayed that bit of information to Aiden Markram, it gave the youngster some food for thought.
Markram had been producing an innings of sublime quality – rich with elegant and powerful strokeplay, solidity and sound technique on defence at a pace which quickly put South Africa in the ascendancy.
And then De Villiers told him the pitch wasn’t an easy one to bat on.
“When a guy like AB strolls down the wicket and says, ‘Sjoe, this is tough, I don’t feel like I am batting too well,’ you kind of have to take a step back yourself,” Markram remarked.
The scoring rate, particularly after tea, dropped noticeably and Markram’s flow was halted somewhat.
Does that mean that there are times when De Villiers – a great communicator during a partnership – doth communicate too much?
Markram would rather he did, but perhaps on Friday, he shouldn’t have.
From the time he captained the SA Under-19 team – a side featuring Kagiso Rabada – Markram has been set for higher honours, a future national captain.
His rise through the domestic ranks was relatively slow by comparison with Rabada, and at times, it was frustrating.
But once he cracked the Titans side, the runs flowed and with the instability at the top of the South African batting order, his selection would happen sooner rather than later.
It was delayed in England last year when the selectors didn’t want to expose him on difficult pitches against Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
Many felt that Linda Zondi and his panel were protecting him just a little too much.
But that delay in selecting him now seems a wise move. He has been able to settle into Test cricket against less testing opponents in Bangladesh, and at home in surroundings with which he is familiar.
Then Zondi and Co threw him into the furnace, making him captain of a one-day side that placed more of an emphasis on experimenting with personnel than winning.
“After the India series, I was pretty down. I felt quite responsible for the series loss, and my personal performance didn’t go too well either,” Markram said on Friday.
“There were plenty questions (at the start of the year) and rightly so. As a batter, you want to score runs against big sides, and that hadn’t happened before the year started.
“It motivated me to try and score runs. I’m fortunate it has worked out fairly well. In international cricket, if you are not going to find a way to try and make things happen, you will be badly exposed.
“I am grateful with how things have gone. We know how this game goes though, it can change quickly.”
His second-innings 143 amidst the first signs of hostility between the two teams in Durban was an important step for him – and for the team, even as Australia strode to victory there.
While a fabulous effort, seeing that it came in a losing cause, it’s value is somewhat diminished.
Friday’s effort was more special. “It’s nice to come across a few runs and importantly, it’s got the side off to a fairly good start.”
In just over five hours he scored 152, his fourth Test century and his highest so far in just his 10th Test.
There were 17 fours and one sweetly-struck straight six off the Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon.
“He played superbly again, he’s done so throughout the whole series,” Australian captain Tim Paine noted.
“I thought we bowled well to him at times, we just struggled to stop him scoring to be honest.
“Credit to him – the wicket had enough in it, he played and missed a few times, we just couldn’t get the nick and anything loose, he jumped all over.
“He’s a very, very good player, and I’m sure he will score a lot of runs for South Africa.”
It may not have been noticeable to Markram given the way he was playing, particularly early on, but there was what he described later as a “lot of nibble” off the surface.
For now, reverse swing has been absent, but the pitch was slightly slower than what is usually the case here, although Markram expects it to speed up over the weekend.
“It was something AB and I discussed, that you never really feel in on a wicket like this. We knew if a wicket fell, it could go one, two, three and four after that.”
That did happen late in the day as Australia picked up 4/52 in 13 overs, including both Markram and De Villiers’ wickets.
South Africa certainly hold the ascendancy after the first day, one which thankfully, given all the drama this series has dished up, will be recalled for the brilliance of a young batsman, set to be one of the sport’s brightest stars.