In many ways, Aiden Markram is not a gamble as stand-in Proteas captain, but rather a well-timed test drive for tougher terrain to come. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Two national sporting bodies walked into 2018.

One looked ahead, beyond this year, and the other revisited the ghosts of 2017 – and maybe even before that – as they tried to make a very public break-up as private as possible.

If you were still unsure about it, South African cricket is already looking ahead to the future.

If the selections for the current one-day series against India were not clear enough, the choice of stand-in captain for the rest of the series has confirmed it.

Once Faf du Plessis’ injury was confirmed, the expectation might have been for someone like Hashim Amla or JP Duminy to take over the reins, and let the rest of the squad look to make a case for themselves with bat and ball.

No, no. Not in this regime. Aiden Markram, even while he looks to make a mark with the bat, has been given the short-term vacancy to fill.

Let us not forget that Markram, still just 23, has already shown his leadership credentials at junior international and at domestic level.

They say people like him are ‘born to lead’, because they somehow cajole others to follow them wherever they will go.

He will go up against India for the next fortnight, and he will be a man under the microscope against an Indian team that couldn’t care less who is placed in front of them.

That kind of pressure will be transferred on to Markram’s shoulders to burden, and how he emerges will reveal a lot about himself.

It’s akin to the trial exams that matriculants sit down for, before the real deal of the finals.

The fact that he knows that there is a touch of experimentation about the whole series will help, and that disclaimer will surely have played on the minds of the selectors and coach Ottis Gibson.

It could be an inspired decision, because no one quite knows what will happen to the Proteas core beyond the 2019 World Cup.

More and more it seems that the pace attack is being groomed to keep flying for the next decade, but a strong leader already in the wings would make the transition that much easier.

In many ways, Markram is not a gamble, but rather a well-timed test drive for tougher terrain to come.

Meanwhile, as the cricketers get their post-2019 ducks in a row, South African rugby may well be wishing that next year’s World Cup could be postponed by a year or five.

Instead of being well down the road with their plans for Japan 2019, they are going the other way.

There is no certainty in so many key areas off the field that the imminent start of the latest instalment of Super Rugby will be a welcome distraction from the problems in the corridors of Saru.

Allister Coetzee refused to go quietly into the Japanese sun, and has aired his considerably soiled laundry in the public sphere.

It wasn’t so much a Dear Jurie letter as it was a Cape salute of sniping sincerity.

Coetzee feels wronged but, in his hearts of hearts, he must know that his body of work had just about put the suffering South African public in a coma.

It was miserable to watch his tenure play out, and it was almost worse to hear his excuses at the end of every Test match.

And so, as 2018 unravels, one South African team is looking to unearth stars, while another is desperately trying to trudge its way out of the mud.

 

Sunday Tribune