CAPE TOWN - Towards the end of the penultimate day in the fourth and final Test against Australia in April at the Wanderers, AB de Villiers, South Africa’s master batsman, fell to an ungainly dismissal.
It was in complete contrast to the great ambidexterity that “Mr 360” showed at the crease during his stellar international career, especially for the fact that it was the last shot De Villiers would play for the Proteas. De Villiers, of course, retired just a month later sending shock waves through the cricket fraternity, and providing the national selectors with a Table Mountain-sized headache.
Filling the gold-minted No 4 position, especially in the ODI team with the countdown to the ICC World Cup well and truly under way now that it’s less than 100 days to the opener against England at Lords’, was not something that could have been anticipated. In fact, De Villiers would probably have been the fulcrum of all the World Cup plans, especially due to his unique abilities and record that boasts 9 577 runs at an average of 53.50. Not to mention that he was the fastest to blast a 50, 100, and 150 in white-ball cricket.
Finding a replacement is a daunting prospect, let alone someone who is not intimidated by the giant shoes he needs to fill. It is a good thing then that Aiden Markram, the heir to De Villiers’ throne, is under no illusions of such grandeur.
“I don’t think it’s a case of trying to find the next AB de Villiers because we will never manage to find another player like that,” Markram, who was named the International Newcomer of the Year at the CSA Awards on Saturday, said.
“It’s still quite important that whoever does fill that role makes it their own and plays their own game in that role. Whether you get the job done like AB does or whoever ... as long as the job gets done.”
Such a level-headed attitude is definitely a prerequisite for the job, especially with Markram having earned his stripes in the opener’s role for the Proteas. It is a position, particularly in the Test side, that he has made his own due to the 1 000 runs he has accumulated in his maiden season as an international cricketer.
The transition to the ODI team has however not been equally smooth, although his load was increased considerably when Linda Zondi & Co. handed the youngster the leadership reins for the series against India in February. Coming up against a beast that is Virat Kohli at the peak of his powers proved a step too far for Markram at that stage.
With Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla also established as arguably the leading ODI opening partnership in the world, it is unlikely that Markram will be the cause of a divorce. It is a fact he is fully aware of and has accepted.
“It is a bit different to opening, but it is not a drastic change. It is something I can manage. I have batted there before. I actually batted at No 4 all through school, although I know it is a different level, I only started opening from 17-years-old,” Markram said.
“I also batted once or twice in the middle-order for the Titans in white-ball cricket, coming in at (No) 3/4/5, depending on the match situation. So, I am becoming more used to it although I know I need more match experience. Whatever role I am given, I will give it my best shot.”
Markram will most likely have the opportunity to audition for the part on the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.