The Aiden Markram conundrum: Should he get dropped or move down the order?

Aiden Markram of South Africa is clean bowled by Jasprit Bumrah of India during day 2 of the third 2021 Test Series. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Aiden Markram of South Africa is clean bowled by Jasprit Bumrah of India during day 2 of the third 2021 Test Series. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Published Jan 30, 2022


Cape Town - Amidst the afterglow of the Proteas’ incredible summer that saw them despatch India across both formats, it could be easy to be swept away in the euphoria and overlook some of the glaring obstacles that still holds back the progression of the national men’s cricket team.

It is particularly the flux that Aiden Markram finds himself in that is the most concerning. The Test opener has transformed himself into a world-class T20 batter that is likely to attract multi-million dollar bids at the upcoming Indian Premier League auction, but has it come at the expense of a burgeoning Test career?

At the moment he appears completely perplexed when facing the red ball with his judgment of his off stump particularly concerning.

In his last six Tests, Markram has made 280 runs an at average of 25.45. Exclude the 108 against Pakistan in Rawalpindi at the beginning of last year and it transforms into 172 at 15.6.

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Despite this poor run Markram will play in the first Test against New Zealand next month. The only matter under discussion is whether he will open the batting or be moved down to the middle order. In any other world this does not seem fair.

It is though possible to see the selectors’ view. They have invested time and emotion in Markram. He was always destined to play for the Proteas since lifting the ICC U19 World Cup trophy in Dubai in 2014 – and this week’s latest capitulation in Antigua by the Class of 2022 has shown just what an achievement that actually was.

Markram was always meant to be the golden boy of his generation and so relaxed and consummate does he look at the crease sometimes that the natural inclination is to keep persevering.

The memories of him taking on and thriving against the likes of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and the rest of the feared Australian pace attack in his first season of Test cricket also remains vivid.

But this really cannot go on. Although he rarely looks out of form, he keeps getting in only to get out, an awful flaw in any top level batsman.

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But as any clichéd leadership manual will stipulate, now that we know the problem, what is the solution?

Dropping Markram outright is the first option. A contender to replace him is Sarel Erwee who has travelled with the Proteas squad for the past two years. The Dolphins left-hander has done everything required of him for an audition at Test level by topping the run-scoring charts for South Africa A in the recent series against their India A counterparts with 251 runs at 50.20. The only drawback was a lack of a three-figure score with Erwee’s best being 97.

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In the same series former Test opener Pieter Malan also struck 221 runs at average of 44. 20, which included a mammoth 163 to remind everyone of his credentials. Malan has been equally consistent in the CSA 4-Day series with an aggregate of 382 runs at 76.40.

Within the New Zealand touring party there is also the exciting Ryan Rickelton, with the young Highveld Lions batter smashing 281 runs at 93.66 domestically to secure his seat on the plane to the land of the long white cloud. Whether it’s enough to earn a Test debut at the Hagley Oval is a different conversation, but it is clear that there are a host of players putting their hands up for the role of captain Dean Elgar’s Test opening partner.

Option 2: Moving Markram down to No 4. Now this is a prickly situation. The first issue is the incumbent Rassie van der Dussen. Although after 13 Tests Van der Dussen still doesn’t have a Test century and only averages 34.61 – which is fundamentally not good enough for the spot naturally reserved for any team's best batter – his two undefeated innings in the successful run chases against India were of the highest quality.

Van der Dussen is also an integral part of the Proteas’ leadership group and dropping him in favour of “The Chosen One” could significantly unbalance the equilibrium of a ship that is finally beginning to sail smoothly.

Furthermore, the message it will send to the batters lower down could be potentially catastrophic. Western Province’s David Bedingham is banging down the door with an avalanche of runs at No 4 as the leading runscorer in the CSA 4-Day series with 438 runs at 62.57, but believes his future lies with England as the Proteas door remains seemingly shut. An urgent conservation with CSA’s Director of Cricket Graeme Smith may be highly recommended.

Fellow WP batter Tony de Zorzi was equally impressive against India A, sitting in just behind Erwee with 234 runs at 46.80 which complimented his domestic form of 295 runs at 59.

ICC Emerging Cricketer of the Year and Proteas ODI opener Janneman Malan has also made a successful transition to the middle order in first class cricket since his move to Boland by striking 374 runs at an average of 93.50, while the Dolphins’ Khaya Zondo has also posted 368 runs at 92.

Nobody is disputing Markram’s potential and ability. But after 29 Tests and at the age of 27, he is no longer a prodigy but rather an experienced player that needs to fulfil his promise or make way for someone else to have a crack. That’s the unfortunate truth of the matter.