DURBAN - Aiden Markram has already put his breakthrough summer behind him, and the Proteas opener now wants to establish himself as a player capable of delivering around the world.
Ten Tests into what many figure will be a long and successful career for the Proteas, Markram faces his first Test away from home, with South Africa in Sri Lanka for a two-Test series, starting next Thursday in Galle. “It’s really important to me. You don’t want to be labelled as a guy who only does well in home conditions,” Markram said in Colombo on Thursday.
Across battles against India, Australia and Bangladesh, Markram showed relish for the ball that came at pace, as spin took a back seat during a frenetic summer of fire on home soil. Markram revelled against pace, scoring significant hundreds that showed he belonged at the highest level.
Now, as he prepares to play in a two-day tune-up in the Sri Lankan capital over the weekend, he is bracing himself for an altogether different challenge over the next few weeks. “It’s obviously going to be very different. Any sub-continent conditions are going to pose a completely different challenge to South African conditions and it’s something I’m really looking forward to,” Markram said.
Inevitably, Markram was quizzed about life without AB de Villiers, and he admitted that the outrageously talented former captain left a massive void with his retirement from international cricket. “It’s never nice to lose a player like AB. The quality that we lose is massive,” Markram said.
But, life goes on. Markram’s positive intent at the crease has led to suggestions by some that he could be the heir to De Villiers at the iconic No 4 slot in years to come. Certainly, he scores at the kind of rate that unnerves attacks and he has an appetite for scoring massive hundreds.
Too excited to sleep 😍😎 Sri Lanka Tour👿 pic.twitter.com/ekh21ohzdM
But, for the moment at least, Markram has settled into his role at the top of the order with Dean Elgar. He has backed those in the middle-order conversation to step up and make the position their own over the next few months.
“We have got plenty of depth and guys on this tour that can do the same sort of role (as De Villiers). There might be a little bit more pressure on the batters, but there is always pressure in this profession and we have to just crack on with the game,” Markram said.
The 23-year-old will set the tone upfront. While the battle in the summer was against the speed and swing of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, Markram will now have to apply himself against the best left-arm spinner in the world, in the delightfully diminutive, but destructive Rangana Herath. On his own patch, Herath is a deadly operator, having taken over the baton of responsibility from the prodigious Muttiah Muralitharan.
Whereas the big-eyed "Murali" was all wrist and sorcery, Herath’s is a slow poison. His fingers do the work, and clever changes of angle, pace and flight do the rest. “I have no idea what to expect in terms of conditions, but he is one of the best spinners in the world,” Markram noted.
If he can get through the new ball, Herath will no doubt be first change, and settle in for long spells with men around the bat. He appears innocuous to the untrained eye, but his persistence, beautiful arc and nagging consistency can wear down any defence. “It’s going to be a great challenge and hopefully I can take some learnings out of the series,” Markram said.
If Markram can take those learnings in a hurry, and convert starts into the stellar contributions that he dotted across his honeymoon period in Test cricket, it will go a long way to securing a second successive series on the little island for SA. The Proteas play a two-day practice game in Colombo from tomorrow.