Aiden Markram’s Test career got off to a splendid start, with scores of 97, 15, 143 and 125 in his first three Tests. He had a relatively smooth easing-in period though, given that his opponents were Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, that too at home.
India’s arrival in South Africa for a three-Test series has posed the opener some sterner challenges, but it’s something the 23-year-old welcomed. “It was a massive step up,” he said in Centurion on Thursday (January 11), two days before the start of the second Test. “There’s a reason why they are the No. 1 team in the world – they have quality players in all departments. They tick all the boxes and they have come here to compete, which is great. For me as a young guy, it is awesome.
“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster the last couple of years but an enjoyable one. I learned a lot about myself and my game, which is important. I’m fortunate to rub shoulders with legends of the game at a young age, which does help. Most importantly I’ve kept learning, which is great.”
SuperSport Park is Markram’s home venue, where he “grew up watching and playing cricket”, and he was convinced there were runs to be had on the pitch. “I think it’s a great Test venue,” he said. “In terms of the cricket itself, it’s a wicket where if you set yourself up as a batter, there are runs to be had. But as a bowler, with the pace and bounce, you always have a shout as well. It’s going to be an exciting match.”
Markram made 5 and 34 at Newlands, looking a lot more assured in the second innings. And he was prepared for a tough examination at the top of the order again, especially given the bowler-friendly conditions likely to be on offer.
“I didn’t want to lose the intensity that I bat at – it’s something I keep close to me as a gauge often. I generally feel when I’m batting at the right intensity I move a bit better and my positions are stronger, so that’s something I challenge myself to achieve. It starts in training. Luckily we have a great attack to face (in the nets) and it’s never easy.”
“Sacrifice is the right word. You will do anything for the team and this is one of the things you will battle through,” he offered. “Not by any means are we going to accept the fact that batters can’t score runs (in these conditions). I still believe the batters can score. It’s not going to be easy, but I think if you can apply yourself and play for long periods within your own game plan that suits you, there are runs up for grabs.
“You obviously have a game plan according to wickets, and you might have to adapt on certain pitches,” he added. “I didn’t want to lose the intensity that I bat at – it’s something I keep close to me as a gauge often. I generally feel when I’m batting at the right intensity I move a bit better and my positions are stronger, so that’s something I challenge myself to achieve. It starts in training. Luckily we have a great attack to face (in the nets) and it’s never easy.”
Continuing on the theme of batsmen needing to find ways to score runs even if the pitches were seamer-friendly, Markram said that the Newlands Test showed the team what sort of surfaces to expect in the series.
“Obviously there aren’t many days to prepare in between but I don’t think there is a lot to change for the next Test. For both sides it’s just about making sure you’re nice and fresh. We got an insight into how the pitches are going to be in this series. It’s about forming a game plan according to that,” he explained.
“We’ve had a couple of days off now to think about that. That’s the direction we want to go in, to feel that as batters it’s not that we can’t score runs here. And look to score according to how the wicket is going to play. Each player needs to adapt his game plan to conditions. It’s something your partner needs to understand, and see when you’re getting a bit loose. There isn’t a fixed blueprint but it’s something we’re chatting about to keep that positive affirmation happening.”
For Markram, having Dean Elgar as his opening partner was the perfect set up. “Massive help,” he acknowledged. “He’s very experienced now in Test cricket. We’ve come a long way playing together at the Titans. He helps to calm me down a bit – it’s something familiar. There are quite a few unfamiliarities for me so it’s nice to have Dean at the other end to calm it all down and make it feel more comfortable.”